Watch Out For These Phone Scams
Congrats! You just won a free vacation-or a million dollars! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "In a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes, you have to enter the contest somehow," says Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in California, USA. "If you ever 'win' a contest that you didn't enter-especially one with a prize worth millions-you're probably being scammed."
When charities, political parties and lobbyists request donations over the phone, show some healthy scepticism. "Some will be legitimate. Many will not," says Adam Levin, founder of the US-based global identity--protection and data-risk-services firm CyberScout and author of Swiped. "Risk being rude and say, 'Send me more information.'" If it's a cause you care about, do a little online digging to find out whether the caller is the real deal.
If someone claiming to be from tech companies such as Microsoft or Apple calls to ask whether you've had computer problems, just say no and hang up. "No one is 'watching' your computer for signs of a virus," says Velasquez. Those scammers won't fix the problem-they'll make it worse by installing malware, says cybersecurity expert John Sileo.
"Can you hear me?"
If you pick up the phone and the caller starts by asking, "Can you hear me?" take a pause. A scammer might be recording your voice to use later to place a phone order in your name-with your recorded "yes" affirming that you have agreed to the bogus purchase. Even if it looks as if the call is from someone you know, just to be safe, rephrase your answer to "I hear you just fine", suggests Velasquez.
A call from a supposed kidnapper who claims to have a loved one is horrifying, but don't jump to pay a ransom. Scammers preying on fear are cold-calling numbers, even going as far as having someone screaming in the background. Be extra sceptical if the caller tries to keep you on the line to make sure you've got the cash. "Rule of thumb with real kidnappers is they want to get off the phone as quickly as possible to avoid being caught," says Levin.
If someone claiming to be from your bank calls to ask you to confirm whether transactions are legitimate, it's safe to give a yes-or-no answer. But don't give up any more information than that, says Levin. Then, to verify whether the call is for real, "flip your credit or debit card over, call the customer service number listed there, and ask whether they just called you", he suggests.
A 2017 Truecaller report states that the average Indian receives 22.6 spam calls per month-the highest of 20 other countries considered in the report. Robocalls mimic local area codes or names of organizations, so check numbers carefully before answering them. "Never answer or call back phone numbers that start with +614 followed by three to four digits after that or those that display no numbers," says Rahul Tyagi, co-founder and vice president lead-training, of Lucideus Technologies, a cybersecurity firm. "Only install certified smartphone apps, don't give unnecessary app permissions and never share your number on public forums, WhatsApp groups and LinkedIn comments," Tyagi says.
If someone claiming to be from the tax department or a phone company calls to collect money and threatens to send the police if you don't pay up right away, hang up. Genuine representatives rarely demand immediate payment over the phone. "Criminals also use many social engineering methods to trap users. So be wary of fake SMSs that push you to install apps, which can then control your phone remotely, or fake banking website links that can extract your credentials," says Tyagi.