Trust No One on the Phone… Not Even the Fraud Department

Your phone rings – the number on the screen says it’s your credit-card company. You answer, and a person tells you that there’s some fraudulent activity on your account. They read off the three most recent transactions, and then ask you to confirm some information.

Many of us get calls like this… but some, it turns out, are frauds.

Security news outlet Krebs on Security recently interviewed someone with the alias “Jim.” His wife received one of these calls, but the caller wasn’t their credit-card company’s fraud department. It was the fraudster himself, trying to get their credit-card information.

Jim realized that calling his credit-card company from the phone number tied to his card meant he could hear the most recent transactions without any form of authentication from him. That means the crook “spoofed” Jim’s phone number, called the company, heard the charges, and then called Jim’s wife pretending to be the credit-card fraud department.

Jim reports that since this happened in January, his credit-card company changed its phone system to now include an authentication process. But it’s a good reminder to still call your company and see what, if anything, you have to enter to get access to any of your information… and that includes transaction history.

Any time a company calls you and asks for your information – especially your credit card, bank account, or Social Security numbers – hang up and call the number you have on your credit card or bill instead. If it did just call you, it’ll have a record of the call. If it was a fraudster, you just saved yourself from a potentially devastating scam.

Unfortunately, scams like this are on the rise. Hanging up and calling the number you have on your card is just one way to avoid phone scams. With the growth of robocalls and more “inventive” scams each year, we wanted to share our other tips on how to avoid falling victim to fraud.

We’ve heard from plenty of readers that simply putting yourself on the “Do Not Call” list is ineffective… But it’s the first step anyone should take.

You can also report scammers directly to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Call the agency at 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to ftc.gov/complaint. If the same person calls repeatedly to harass you, report them to the local police as well.

We advise investing in a good caller ID program. Many phones come with these features now, but if you have a landline without a caller ID, you can buy a simple one for about $13 on Amazon.

Keep in mind these rules, too:

1. Don’t answer numbers you don’t know. If the number comes up without a name you recognize, let it go to voicemail. If it’s important, the caller will leave you a message. Many cellphones also allow you to block certain numbers, and if you have some on your landline that call often, contact your service provider and ask about blocking them.

2. Search those unknown numbers. Sometimes a quick online search will help you figure out who called you. This is useful if you deal with a legitimate company that uses a few different lines. For example, my researcher got a call from the office of her alarm company and didn’t recognize it. She had only saved the alert number instead, which came from a different line. Other times, your search will link that unknown number to a string of scam calls.

3. Don’t answer a call from your own number. Scammers are able to call using software that switches their real phone number with another one. They may use your own number or one with the same area code as you so that you’ll think it’s a neighbor or local shop and pick up.

4. Try an add-on service. We’ve written before about a service called Nomorobo. It automatically disconnects automated sales calls. It works on some landlines for free, and you can also pay for the service on your cellphone.

This next service is just for cellphones. My researcher uses AT&T’s free service, Call Protect. It flags suspected spam calls with a clear warning on the screen. You can also report scam calls and add to the database of user-reported scammers. The more negative reports a number gets, the higher the threat warning is. She received a call a few days ago from a “Potential Fraud” number with 17 reports against it. It went to auto-block, so her phone never even rang.

Call Protect is only available for AT&T subscribers, but T-Mobile also offers a free service. Verizon Wireless and Sprint both have paid versions. Find out which apps are available for your carrier right here.

5. Try a call blocker. If you’re getting a lot of calls on your landline, try an inbound call blocker. You can find them online for about $90 (like this one). They block pre-listed calls automatically and allow you to add new ones to your block list.

Although we’ve heard some folks using a whistle over the phone to deter scammers from calling back, we don’t advise it. There’s a chance you may damage the hearing of the person on the other end. It’s easier to simply hang up and block calls when you can.

If there’s a tip we missed, we’d love to see it. Please shoot it over to us at [email protected].

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 7, 2020