Chances are, you have been called by a scammer (or two, or 20) over the last week. It’s a rising problem. While most of us know what to do: hang up, report, or don’t answer the call at all, others are not so educated. We often worry about our elderly parents and grandparents in particular, or those vulnerable folks who might be inclined to believe what a scammer is saying.
According to NordVPN, Canadians lost $1.33 million to fraud already in 2023. What’s more, estimates suggest that 1.22 billion unique phone numbers are leaked on the dark web as we speak. How can we help those folks?
First off, NordVPN says it’s important to help these vulnerable people determine the difference between a fraud call and a telemarketing call.
“Most telemarketers gather their clients’ information through sign-up forms or other third-party providers, while fraudsters look for their potential targets on the dark web markets and use the leaked data sold there,” says Adrianus Warmehoven, Cybersecurity Advisor at NordVPN. “Another example is Facebook. After their breach in 2021, the phone numbers of 533 million users were leaked on the dark web for fraudsters to access easily.”
This can make it difficult to discern the difference between the two.
To determine if a call is fraudulent, chances are the caller will be pretending they are someone of authority, like your bank, university, or doctor. They will use strong and persuasive techniques that often come across as even forceful and aggressive. If they seem to get more forceful and aggressive the more you push back, chances are the call is a fraudulent one.
This leads to the next tip: fraudulent calls usually have a sense of urgency: you need to pay X amount of money right now or else. Chances are, this isn’t ever going to be the case with something legitimate. With your bank, for example, if you owe money, they will send you multiple reminders or notices before resorting to a phone call of such urgent magnitude. If you’re concerned, hang up, call your bank branch directly, and ask them to verify if the call is legitimate before giving up any information.
It isn’t always about saying you owe money, but sometimes about trying to sell you something. Telemarketers aren’t exactly welcome calls either, but sometimes, a telemarketer is selling something you legitimately want. This makes it difficult because you could easily fall into a trap and mistake a fraudster for a telemarketer. In many cases, fraudsters will try to pretend they are from a large, recognizable company like Amazon or Apple, or from a government institution. These companies, it should be noted, very rarely ever call customers for any reason.
A charity fundraiser is another option that fraudsters might adopt to prey on gullible and good-hearted individuals. If the charity sounds like one you’d like, let them know you’ll look into it on your own and make a donation electronically, or call back. Verify the charity’s existence and legitimate phone number, website, and social presence, and go about making a donation that way if it’s something you’re interested in doing. Fake charity fundraisers, says NordVPN, are most active during the holiday season or after disasters so this is when you should be most diligent. But these calls can happen at any time.
Whatever the nature of the fraudulent call, fraudsters will likely ask you to transfer money or visit a website to claim the offer. They’ll provide steps to follow, which you should never do.
Keep in mind that if you’re contacted by phone and answer the call, the chances are greater that fraudsters will continue to reach out through other means. This includes phishing through e-mail and a form called smishing through SMS messages. If you have unintentionally answered a call from a scammer, simple hang up immediately.
“It is pointless to engage in conversation with scammers, adds Warmenhoven, “because their goal is to steal information.” If you only suspect the call might be fraudulent, don’t give out personal details or follow any instructions they provide on the call. Once again, hang up and call the company directly to verify if it was legitimate. Even if the fraudster sounds just like a customer service agent you have spoken with from your bank or other company, these individuals are trained to imitate the tone of voice and even manners and script of legitimate customer service representatives. They can sound very convincing.
Another important step to take is to report the fraudulent call. Companies cannot do anything about these calls if they aren’t reported. Report the call to local authorities or your telephone or cellular service provider so they can investigate and hopefully prevent others from falling victim to the scam.
There are also services like Incogni, which follows the GDPR, CCPA, and other applicable privacy laws, you can sign up for to make data brokers remove your personal information from their databases. This makes it more difficult for telemarketers and scammers to access your information. There’s a fee for these services: Incogni is $8.25/mo. annually or $16.49/mo. when you go month-to-month. But if scam calls are a persistent issue that impedes your day-to-day life, it might be worth it.