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Raising Your Phone Scam Awareness: How to Effectively Protect Yourself

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Your phone rings but the number is unfamiliar to you so you are considering not answering. But then you begin to wonder whether it could be someone trying to inform you that your mom is in the hospital or that your child has lost their phone. You are tempted to answer but are reluctant because you know how common phone scams are these days.

Statistics show that over 70 million Americans lost money as a result of phone scams in 2022 and this figure grows with every year that goes by. So how can you be sure of who is calling? How can you protect yourself from phone scams? Keep reading for tips on some of the steps you can take.

How to identify a phone scam

A phone scam refers to the use of phones to trick you into providing sensitive information or sending money to a person with negative intent. Scammers often claim to be associated with the government, appeal for charitable causes, or present enticing offers, pressuring you into making on-the-spot decisions. Phone scams take different forms but they all play on your emotions.

Types of phone scams

Cybercriminals know all too well how valuable mobile phones are to people. They are carried with them everywhere they go and are used to access some of the most private information in people’s lives. They are linked to emails, banking, and other sensitive information. That in itself makes them perfect targets for identity fraud and theft. Some of the most common types of phone scams are as follows:

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1.   One Ring Scams

One ring scam is where an unknown number rings your phone once in the hope that you will call back. Because most people would be curious about who called, they’d most likely return the call—that is why this scam is so successful. These calls are usually from an international area code and a return call gets charged fees that profit the scammer. Occasionally, a voicemail is left to increase the likelihood of you taking action. It always important to validate phone numbers, you may not be familiar with.

2.   Phone Vishing

In vishing or voice phishing, as it is also called, you receive a call or voicemail message from someone claiming to be a representative of an official company or government service, urging you to provide personal information or money. The aim of the call is to get you panic enough to instantly give the scammer what they want. That way you won’t be able to determine it is a scam until it is too late.

3.   Mobile Phone Virus Scams

With mobile phone virus scams, you will receive false notifications that a virus has been discovered on your phone. You may have noticed a similar alert while browsing the internet on your phone. It urges you to take instant action, noting that a scan of your phone revealed a virus infection. If you comply with its request for you to download an antivirus application, spyware or malware will be used to hijack your device or infect others. The one true protection against this is to have cybersecurity on your phone.

4.   SMS Phishing

SMS phishing is also called smishing and involves malware SMS links being sent to you via a text message. If you open these links, spyware or malware infects your device. There is also a chance that you may be deceived into taking a different action, for example, calling a pay-per-minute phone number, providing personal information, or accepting a subscription.

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How to protect yourself from phone scams

No one will ever be totally safe from phone scams, especially because new ones emerge regularly. But although each scam is unique, they all have similar goals and at times, methods. What’s important is preparing yourself and knowing how to recognize them. Pay attention and act quickly. Habitually monitor your accounts so that you may pick up unfamiliar activity early enough. If unfamiliar activity is noted, it is recommended that security information tied to the account be changed immediately. This prevents any personal information being lost, and along with the finest identity theft protection, will help to protect your identity.

Useful tips for avoiding phone scams

  1. Create strong passwords. Never reuse passwords and never use easily retrievable personal information as your password. Rather, combine various character types and cases—it should be no less than six characters long.
  2. When using public Wi-Fi, be sure to use a virtual private network (VPN). Its encryption helps your data remain anonymous, preventing a trace to your IP address.
  3. Use two-step verification. This protects your account by requiring you to verify yourself twice using any two of these, usually on different devices: your password, phone number, or alternate email address. When you sign into the account with your password, you will be prompted to enter a code that will be sent to your phone via text or to your alternate email address. You will gain access to your account after entering this code into the webpage. Implementing this step will provide an additional layer of protection, and only takes a few seconds to set up.
  4. Keep your software updated. While this is known to increase your device’s speed and improve its features, it also performs a more important role—it strengthens your system by overcoming the security weaknesses of the older software versions. So, although at times you are unwilling to put in the work, consider taking a few minutes to update your software.
  5. Always ensure that you verify people’s identities. Reverse phone lookup services can help with that—Spokeo and PhoneHistory to name a couple.
  6. Use a call-blocking app. It has call labelers that will help you determine which calls are legitimate and which are spam, allowing you to decide which you want to answer.
  7. Immediately hang up if you think it’s a scam. Don’t interact in any way. If you are curious about whether it was indeed a scam you are free to do your own research.
  8. Pay attention to your phone bill. If you notice any unauthorized charges, report them quickly and dispute the fees. Even if it may not be scammer activity, it will save you from paying undesired charges.
  9. Learn how to recognize phishing scams—it can help you take measures to protect yourself against them.
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