Phone scammer calling? How to protect yourself when thieves call

Your phone rings. You don’t recognize the number, but you pick up the phone anyway. A very friendly woman is on the other end. After exchanging pleasantries, she informs you that you have won a free all-inclusive vacation to Mexico. All you have to do is provide your credit card information to pay your prize tax. If this conversation sounds familiar, Truecaller says you’ve received the most common spam-related phone call.

“They prey on this opportunistic feeling of the consumer that they won something and that’s when they take advantage of that,” says Nick Larsson, head of growth and partnerships at Truecaller.

A survey conducted by Truecaller in March found that an estimated 24.9 million Americans lost $8.9 billion in phone scams over a 12-month period, with the average victim in the hole for $357. No one is immune. If you are a college graduate, a parent with children under 18 or a male 18-34; you are most likely to fall for a phone scam.

“The United States is the second largest spammed country in the world, behind India,” says Larsson. “Americans receive 23 spam calls a month. That’s a huge increase. If people don’t start taking action against this and report it, it will only rise in the future.”

Recognize the scams

While the vacation getaway is the most common spam-related phone call, Truecaller says other phone scams are popular among thieves. Some of them include:

  • A caller threatens that your loans are past due. They say you must pay the balance immediately.
  • A caller claims to be from your bank. They say a hold has been placed on your account and it will be fixed if you provide them with sensitive information.
  • A caller claims to be from the IRS. They say you must pay your taxes and penalties with a credit card or wire transfer.
  • A caller says he is a prince from Nigeria. He's rich and if you help him access his money, he will reward you later.

Watch what you share

Social networking has changed the way we communicate with each other. Whether it’s news, experiences or photos on sites such as Facebook, Google or Twitter; we are sharing a lot of information online. Some experts say it’s too much information. Larsson says the less you share online, the less chance your information will get into the wrong hands. He says that includes signing up for services, email newsletters or even online petitions. 

Don’t pick up the phone

Truecaller says Americans receive most of their spam calls on their mobile phone. So what should you do if you see a number you don’t recognize? Larsson says the safest advice is to do nothing. Once you answer the phone, a red flag will be put over your head. Scammers will see your number as active and will keep calling. What if you see an unknown a number which appears to come from your area? He says just because the number looks like a regional one, it doesn’t mean you are safe. Scammers have become so sophisticated; they can spoof a number so it looks like it’s a local call.

Block it

If you haven’t registered your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry, you should do so. Larsson notes that the list only helps with regular telemarketers who follow laws and regulations. Scammers don’t follow any rules. The registry accepts registrations from both landlines and cell phones. He says if you are receiving unwanted calls on your cell phone, you can try downloading a spam blocker or a caller ID app. Another option is to block the number on your iPhone or Android device.

Report it

If you receive a call from a scammer, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at or 1-877-FTC-HELP. You will have to provide specific information on your experience, such as when you were contacted, the product or service that was offered, as well as the company’s name.

“One of the most important things is to not suffer in silence,” says Larsson. “If you get one of these calls, report it to authorities or with a spam blocking app so you protect other consumers.”

Linda Bell joined FOX Business Network (FBN) in 2014 as an assignment editor. She is an award-winning writer of business and financial content.  You can follow her on Twitter @lindanbell.