How to Stop Scam Callers and Save Yourself from Identity Theft and Annoyance

Lyndon Seitz
Writer
Brandon King
Editor
June 5, 2024

It can be difficult to describe a scam or robocall because they’re so common that many of us just phase them out, dumping out the fact they existed with other unimportant information. 

We know their annoyance all too well.

Yet scam calls remain an issue – they happen too regularly and leave us wondering why and how.

One of the answers is “because they work” for scammers. Another has to do with the advancement of technology.

Just as defenses to stop these calls are getting better and phone users are getting savvier, scammers are developing new tricks to hook and reach people.

But these calls are not just annoying– they are potentially dangerous.

We aren’t necessarily talking about robocalls or solicitation calls (though there will be a lot of overlap). 

Sure, those knives your mother-in-law bought were wasted and overpriced, but they weren’t a scam.  We are talking about the calls deliberately meant to get personal information for you or sell you a bogus product. 

Here’s everything you need to know about scam calls and how to stop them as effectively as possible.

How Do Scam Calls Work?

Calling communication connect networking concept

Image by rawpixel.com

There are many types of scam calls, far more than we can go over in this article. 

Keeping track of them all on a specific level isn’t recommended or possible. However, you can stay aware of some common factors and trends.

The goal of a scam call is typically one of two things:

  • To get you to part with your information so that the scammer (or the highest bidder) can steal your identity later.
  • To simply steal your money or access your accounts in some way.

This is done via one of a few ways:

  • By convincing you that the caller is an authority and that you can trust them (you can’t).
  • Using a sense of urgency or emergency to act without thinking, sending money, or providing personal information. 
  • Promising you something you don’t want to miss (but doesn’t actually exist), such as a prize or opportunity.

There are variations of the above and combinations, but these are the things to look out for.

What Is Robocall?

The concept of the scam call and the concept of the robocall are intertwined to the point where people interchange the terms. And while we are dealing with scam calls here, many scams start with a robocalls.

Typically robocalls use a list (often bought) and automatically call people from that list using a set of phone numbers acquired from smaller telephone providers. While a phone line cannot call out to more than one person at a time, everything is automated as quickly as possible using computer programs.

Often, a robocall starts as an automated process, but when you respond or press a number, you will be connected to an actual human being

From here, you might get connected to a scammer or a salesperson. Or some combination of the two.

The “Do Not Call” List

Do Not Call

Photo by https://www.donotcall.gov/

The first line of defense you have against telemarketers, scam calls, and the like is the “Do Not Call” list, which was created to protect people against unsolicited phone calls. 

It is easy to sign up for, will stop legitimate companies from harassing you on the phone, and might give some predatory companies some pause.

Important Notes About the Do Not Call List

The Do Not Call list isn’t meant to stop scammers in their tracks, and it won’t solve all of your robocall and scam call problems. Keep the following in mind:

  • The list is meant to stop sales calls. Fundraising, political, debt collection, and survey calls are still allowed. 
  • If a company or person doesn’t care about laws or regulations (as scammers are wont to do), the list isn’t stopping them. It may increase penalties against them if they get caught, though.
  • If you give a company permission to contact you, they can call whether you are on the list or not.
  • If you get a call, you will want to report it via an easy-to-use form.
  • After signing up, it may take 31 days to take full effect.

Properly Setting Up Your Voicemail

Before anything else, set up your voicemail. It can make you rest easier. You don’t need to pick up a call if you’re uncertain.

Make sure that you get voicemails first. You’d be surprised at how many people fail to set up a working voicemail, empty their inbox, or otherwise hinder their ability to get messages.

I also strongly recommend putting on a PIN or password for your voicemail. Many voicemail systems can be accessed simply by inputting one’s own phone number, and this is something scammers know and exploit if they can.

Who Can Help You?

Only you can do everything necessary to prevent falling victim to a scam phone call. However, you can use apps, tools, and services that will help you.

Contact or consider the following regarding scam calls.

Your Phone Company

Your phone company will want to know about scam calls. Many phone companies pride themselves (at least in advertising) on blocking as many scam calls as possible and will be interested in learning more. 

It may not be the thing that will get you immediate results, but it does let your phone service provider know that:

  • This number you reported is a scam number and should be blocked or investigated.
  • Your number is the recipient of scam calls.
  • You care about this.

Outside Services

If you’re looking to stop scam calls, some services and apps can help. Some are paid, and some are free, though the free ones often have a catch.

CTIA has a list of services and resources that can help you and help you with your career in mind.

On top of this, you can work with an identity protection service such as Aura. While they might not be able to stop scam calls outright, they can warn you if your personal information is available online, which can lead to more scam calls.

If you already have security software on your phone, check if it has call filtering or blocking features. You might like them better than what is installed by default on your phone.

Phone Settings

Depending on your phone’s make and model, you might be able to activate certain features that reduce the number of scam calls coming in.

On Android Phones, the process is simple and in the phone app. First, go to settings in the app. You need to go to Caller ID & Spam in the Assistive section and toggle on “filter spam calls.”

iPhone users have it a little differently. You can silence unknown callers using a setting in the phone, though this might be a little strict for your liking. Otherwise, Apple will suggest reputable third-party apps to stop spam calls.

General Tips To Avoid and Deal with Scam Callers

So how do you want to deal with the scam callers? The methods will vary slightly based on the type of scam, but you can start with the following:

1. A Local Number Might Not be Local (Spoofed Calls) 

One annoying thing that has been a trend in recent years is that many scam calls or robocalls will spoof a number close to your actual location or area code to make you more likely to pick up. 

After all, someone in your area code might be more likely to be someone you know or a business that’s actually relevant to you. What if it’s the neighbors? It might be someone who found your pet cat!

You can’t trust local numbers more than any other number anymore.

2. Remember Your Caller ID Isn’t Perfect

Related to the above, your caller ID is not a catch-all for phone calls. It can be very helpful, but it doesn’t detect all spam calls, it can be tricked, and scammers know that most people will implicitly trust it.

Even the most advanced ones need time to adjust to new scams and scam numbers.

3. Do Not Answer Questions

This isn’t a subpoena. You don’t need to answer questions you don’t want to over the phone. If there’s information you don’t want to give out, you don’t have to. And if the questions start becoming odd or related to your information, you can just hang up (see our section on hanging up).

Possible Personal Questions They May Ask to Scam You

  • Practically anything that might be used as a security verification question. “What is the make of your first car?” “Where was the street you lived on as a child?” 
  • “Can you hear me?” or other questions meant to get you to respond. Note that this isn’t necessarily a scam in itself, and no one has been defrauded from just this type of phone call, but it can make scammers aware that your number is active.
  • Questions about the bank or financial institution you use often come in the form of a phone survey.
  • “Could you contribute to X?” This is often in the guise of a charity.

4. Never Provide Personal Information

If someone calls you and you have no idea who they are, you have no need nor reason to give them your personal information. The more private the information, the better their reason for wanting it, and they’ll likely be lying about anything.

If someone calls you, don’t provide personal information. Call them back via an official number or use secure online resources.

How to Tell If the Caller Is a Scammer – Signs to Look for?

Young girl with short hair wearing white polo shirt looking confused and very anxious while talking on mobile phone

Image by stockking

  • The caller addresses you in a general way and not by your name.
  • “You have been specially selected”
  • The caller gives off signs that they are not who they say they are.
  • They’re not willing to answer specific questions.
  • The caller seems hostile or tries to get you agitated to get you to submit to their demands.
  • The caller tries to create a sense of urgency.
  • The caller will repeatedly call and harass you even if you state you aren’t interested.

1. Listen for Scripts or Robots

Scammers don’t have the time or money to provide the personalized customer service experience you’ve come to expect from top companies and their customer service agents.

While some scammers might be more clever, most will work from a script or start with robocalls. If you hear anything like this, it isn’t essential, and it’s more likely to be a scam.

2. Don’t Answer

See a number that you don’t recognize? Don’t answer the phone. You don’t have to answer every call, and it might be best to think a moment before you answer any phone call anyway.

If it’s someone you might want to talk to, they’ll leave a message anyway or contact you via other means. 

3. Just Hang Up

You don’t owe the scammer a second of your time, and you can easily just hit the end call button when you realize it isn’t someone you know. It takes about two seconds, though I’m sure you can go faster if you try.

You’re not being rude, – you’re being polite to all the other things you could do with your time.

4. Question the Intent of the Caller

Shouldn’t you be suspicious if someone contacts you regarding the status of various financial accounts? 

If something is too good to be true, then it is. If something seems too threatening to be true, then it likely is. It’s much easier to lie over the phone.

Ask yourself, in all cases, what the person(?) on the other end of the line wants. The answer will guide you.

5. Call Them, Not the Other Way Around

Going on a common thread through many scam prevention methods, don’t accept requests over the phone from unrecognized parties, even if they say they’re from a company you work with.

If something needs to be done, explain that you’ll do it shortly. Then contact their official number and work from there. Your information will be far safer for this practice.

Similarly, don’t pay people over the phone if you’re getting called. You can do it online if there’s a bill to be paid or an account to check. By waiting, you can be more secure.

6. Worry Less About False Positives

But what if it’s someone reaching out to me that I might want to talk to? What if it’s someone important?

If it’s someone important, they’d probably already be in your address book, or you’ll be expecting a call.

They’ll find another way to contact you if it’s really important

What Is Scam Texts?

While scam calls might not be as popular as they used to be, there are also scam texts to worry about. 

Scam texts can lead to scam calls and often lead to the same consequences.

Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft via Phone Scams

Man Holding a Smartphone and a Credit Card

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Identity theft is your main concern if you fall victim to a scam caller or think they got your information.

If you do become the victim of identity theft from a phone scam:

  • Report it as quickly as possible with as many details as possible. You will want to report it to the FTC, the administrators of any affected accounts, and other relevant parties. You may be able to get a chargeback and have other organizations looking out for you.
  • Cut off the scammer at all possible avenues, blocking them and not taking any more unknown calls.
  • You will need to watch for identity theft for a long time. Check your statements regularly, even if you think your accounts are safe. Additionally, use a service such as Aura to help keep watch for you and give you insurance if needed.
  • Remember that many people get caught up in phone scams and to not beat yourself up too much about it. You will get through it if you don’t panic, and the right steps will mitigate or eliminate the damage. Reflect on what happened, but only to learn.

Conclusion – Don’t Let Scam Callers Get in Your Way

Scam callers are a plague upon our smartphones, but they don’t have to be. With the right strategies, we can avoid them entirely and know when to ignore them (and how) when they do come along.

On top of these strategies, you should get outside help regarding your security, information, cyber, and phone. Getting an identity protection service such as Aura can take some of the load off, and other services such as McAfee, Norton, and Bitwarden can help keep your identity safe. Don’t let scam callers derail you.