Silent Robocalls Warn of Future Fraud Attempts

2 September 2015

Have you ever wondered about those calls you sometimes get from unknown numbers with no one on the other end of the line? You pick up the phone to see who’s calling, but after three or four “hello”s, you realize no one is going to answer, so you hang up.

Most people brush off these calls as wrong numbers or ineffective telemarketing, but according to a recent report from the U.S.’s National Public Radio (NPR), they may be a sign of something more sinister in the works. It turns out that international fraud groups use these calls to determine whether there’s a human attached to each phone number they’ve collected to target for scam phone calls. When you pick up and say hello, you’re actually letting these fraudsters know that your number works and they should try to call you again in the future, usually to run some sort of phone scam.

According to Vijay Balasubramaniyan, who runs an anti-phone scam company in Atlanta, Georgia, the initial silent call is “essentially the first of the reconnaissance calls that these fraudsters do. They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end? You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

Once criminals have discovered that there is in fact a person attached to your phone number, they will begin to target you with any number of classic phone scams, from calls impersonating government officials and telling you that you owe back taxes, to calls asking for personal information to remove supposed holds on your bank or credit accounts. If you have received a silent phone call from an unknown number recently, you should be on high alert for these kinds of calls, making sure not to give away your information over the phone to anyone whose identity you can’t fully verify.

One variation on this type of scam is a robocall that tells the recipient to press a certain key to unsubscribe from a call list. In fact, according to Lifehacker, pressing a button to opt out makes you even more likely to receive calls in the future because, like saying “hello” on a silent call, it tips off scammers that there is a real person on the other end.

To avoid unintentionally encouraging fraudsters to target you for scams, it’s best not to pick up the phone for unknown numbers, letting them go to voicemail instead. If this happens enough times, the fraudsters are likely to delete your number from their contact list because they know you don’t intend to answer.

However, if you’re job hunting or expecting a call from someone whose number you don’t know, this advice can be hard to follow. If you do pick up and find that there’s silence on the other end, hang up as soon as possible and record the number that called you so you can try to avoid future scam calls from the same number.

For more information about how phone scams can lead to credit card fraud and identity theft, follow this blog. Subscribe to a credit monitoring service to be alerted to certain activity in your credit file that could indicate fraud.