4 Phone Scams That Can Lead to Identity Theft

9 April 2015

A lot of identity theft these days takes place on the internet, but a substantial amount of criminals still use phone scams to gain access to victims’ information. A phone call or text immediately seems more intimate than an email from an unknown account, lending phone scams an air of legitimacy that makes them harder to distinguish from ordinary phone calls than spam emails are from real emails. Scams involving actual phone calls are also more likely to target the elderly, since they are less likely to use the internet but more vulnerable to fraud over the phone. Here are a few scams to know and avoid falling for:

  • “Vishing”/”Smishing”: These are portmanteau terms for “voice phishing” and “SMS phishing”, respectively. Voice phishing might take the form of a caller pretending to be from your phone company and asking for information to sign you up for a lower rate plan. SMS phishing often involves a text from an unknown number inviting the victim to sign up for an account by accessing a website. Once they get to the website, they will be asked to enter personal information, which can then be used for identity theft. To avoid falling for these scams, it’s a good idea to avoid giving out personal information to anyone who calls or texts you, and make sure that any website you receive in a text is a legitimate website before providing any of your information online.
  • “One ring” scams: Sometimes, scammers call your phone and let it ring once so that a missed call shows up, then wait for you to call them back and get charged a premium rate. If you see a number you don’t recognize on your missed call list, it’s probably best to just ignore it. If you’re receiving a lot of calls from unknown numbers, (for example if you’re looking for a job or a roommate), make sure to look up the numbers that have called you before you call them back to see if they’ve been reported online as making previous fraudulent phone calls.
  • Grandparent scams: This type of scam targets the elderly with grandchildren. The caller pretends to be the victim’s grandchild who has been arrested or, if the scammers have a flair for the dramatic, taken hostage in a foreign country. Additional scammers play the roles of police or kidnappers and demand the victim’s credit card information in order to pay bail or ransom. Urge any elderly people you know who have limited exposure to the news to watch out for this sort of scam, to confirm with other family members if they hear that their grandchild is in trouble, and not to give out any credit card information on the phone.
  • Subscription fraud: Technically, this type of fraud doesn’t take place over the phone, but it involves phone plans and can seriously damage your credit. Subscription fraud happens when someone uses your credit card or other financial information to open a phone line in your name, or in their own name so that you never hear about it.

If you suspect that your information may have been compromised in a phone scam, leaving you vulnerable to credit card fraud and identity theft, subscribing to a credit monitoring service will help you find peace of mind. You will be alerted to certain types of activity on your account that may be fraud, helping you to notice potential credit problems faster and more efficiently.