If you own a phone, there’s a good chance you have to put up with the annoyance of unwanted callers. But it’s not just telemarketers interrupting your dinner or survey takers wanting to know your opinion on political topics anymore. The real danger of unwanted calls is in phone scams.

An estimated 89% of phone owners in the US receive unwanted calls each month, and the increasing problem of phone scams is only getting worse. According to one source, 11% of phone owners have fallen victim to a phone scam, and of those victims, 20% have lost as much as $10,000 as a result; 14% of the people surveyed receive more than thirty calls in a single month period.

So what do you need to know to be able to rely on your phone for communication and emergency access, but still avoid the threat? Here are a few helpful tips that will hopefully lower your chances of becoming a victim of fraud:

  1. Guard your info – Scammers operate off of different sources for your phone number. They may be Robocalling you, which means a computer is doing all the dialing, or they may have purchased lists of phone numbers from sources who got them either legally or illegally. Finally, they may simply be punching numbers at random, hoping to land on someone who will fall for their scheme. But think about this: if someone was legitimately calling you with an offer or with a warning about your account, wouldn’t they have your information already? Of course they would, so there’s no need to supply them with your personal data, especially things like your Social Security number, your birthdate, or your account number and password. Even if they tell you to verify your account information, don’t do it. After all, they called you. They should know who you are. Never give out your information to anyone who calls you. Even if they indicate there’s a problem with your account, hang up and call the company directly using a number you can verify—not the number the caller gives you, as this could lead right back to the scammers.
  1. Too good to be true, too scary to be real – One of the most common phone scams right now (33% of reported calls) involve people posing as IRS agents, claiming that criminal charges are being filed against you for failure to pay your taxes. The second most common phone scam right now is threats from credit card companies or loan companies, claiming you’re behind in your payments (31% of calls). That’s pretty scary stuff. However, the IRS doesn’t call people, it sends a mailed letter with instructions on what to do next; your credit card company will never call you and demand payment over the phone, although depending on the company you might receive a phone call simply informing you that need to address some concern with your account. At the same time, 27% of the reported phone scams involved lottery winnings or some form of sweepstakes winnings. Think about this: how many times have you seen news reports of a major lottery like the Powerball, stating that a winning ticket was sold but the winner has yet to come forward? It happens somewhat frequently. That’s because no one calls the winning ticket holder to inform him that he’s won. If you receive a phone call for a lottery or contest—especially one that you don’t remember entering—hang up…it’s a scam.
  1. Let it ring – With the increase in cell phone ownership and the numbers of people who rely on a cell phone instead of a primary house phone, avoiding a scam is easier than ever. Why? Because there’s no need to answer the phone! If you don’t recognize the number or if the caller ID indicates it’s from a city and state you’re not connected to, simply ignore it. Anyone who actually needs to get in touch with you will leave a voicemail, and if it’s your cell phone, the caller can opt to text you instead.

Just remember one crucial warning: even a text message isn’t necessarily safe. It’s an easy way to spread scams because it can be typed once and delivered to thousands of people instantly. It’s also an easy way to install a virus on your phone, so never click a link in a text message that you were not expecting.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.