Category Archives: Telephone Scams

What If I Don’t Have Caller ID?

I’m guilty of assuming everyone has caller ID these days. While the feature may be baked right into mobile phones, caller ID service for landline phones is still a feature you usually have to pay extra for. And some people don’t want to.

So how should these holdouts handle telephone scams?

My advice is: get on the list and be quick on the draw. First, add your number to the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Once it takes effect, it will weed out all the legitimate, non-scam phone calls. Anyone who calls with an offer or sales pitch after that is obviously ignoring federal regulations and can be assumed to be attempting to commit fraud. If you’ve answered the phone, hang up as soon as you realize what’s happening.

Second, the vast majority of scammers use automated robocalls, where they ring multiple phones at once and then connect with whomever answers first. That setup takes a moment to function, and causes recognizable audio artifacts. If you’ve answered the phone and don’t get a response within a second or so, you can assume it is a robocall and hang up. If you answer and the first thing you hear is electronic noises (little clicks, bloops, beeps, etc.) or silence, it’s safe to assume you’re dealing with a robocall and hang up.

If you’ve hung up on a legitimate caller, they’ll call back.

Failing the quick-draw hang-up technique, if you find yourself talking to an unexpected caller, the old rules still apply: if they’re trying to make you afraid, it’s probably a scam; if the offer sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam; never wire money to a stranger; the IRS doesn’t call to demand payment over the phone; you didn’t win the lottery; your grandchild isn’t in jail or a hospital overseas; your computer doesn’t have a virus; never press “1” for any reason.

You’re under no obligation to be polite to someone who is trying to trick you out of your money over the phone. You’re allowed to just hang up without explanation.

Scam Calls from Local Phone Numbers (OR: Let It Be, Let It Be)

A few years ago I wrote about lottery scams originating from Jamaica, and I basically said, “Don’t even answer a call from the 876 area code.”

Which is still decent advice, although area codes will begin to have less and less geographical meaning as time goes on because we’re running out of numbers; new phone lines will be assigned whatever ten-digit string is available at the moment, and the old idea of “area code” = “whence the call originates” will begin to blur.

That said, not answering calls from unknown numbers? Still a good rule of thumb. If it’s legitimate and important, they’ll leave a message.

But what if the call almost looks familiar? For example: your phone number is 219-555-1234, and a call shows up from 219-555-5678? Even with all that stuff about area codes and running out of phone numbers, the same area code AND prefix is bound to be someone local, right?

Not in the age of caller ID spoofing.

A favorite new tactic among scammers is to pick an area code, a prefix, and a random set of four numbers, then robocall everyone within that area code and prefix. The call looks local, and potential victims will be more likely to pick up, thinking someone they know is calling.

Treat it like any other unknown caller and consider not answering it. Once again, if it’s legitimate and important, they’ll leave a message.

I remember when screening calls was sort of…frowned upon. Like you were arrogant, paranoid or trying to weasel out of paying your debts. But call screening is just good personal business these days. Screen away!

Now, eventually this is going to happen: the spoofed caller ID is going to appear to come from a number you do recognize. There is a non-zero chance it will happen someday, and in this case, you’ll probably pick up. End the call without explanation as soon as you realize it’s a scam call. (If you can’t tell the difference, get new friends.)

There is a second step to dealing with the same area code/same prefix scam calls: after you’ve ignored the ringing phone and found that they either left no message or a prerecorded pitch on your voicemail, do NOT call the number back to ask about the call or to accuse someone of running a scam.

Think about it: caller ID spoofing means the call did NOT come from the number that shows up on your phone. That means the actual owner of that number did NOT call you. You’re going to end up reaching a victim whose phone number was chosen at random by criminals, and if you start in on them you’re just causing stress to another person who doesn’t deserve it.

Don’t do that. It’s not nice. You avoided a scam by screening your calls. That’s enough of a victory. Let it be.