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Phone Scams For Everyone

In the past day or two I’ve received a few alarming voicemails claiming potential legal actions and even threatening that the police will come to arrest me. Some claimed to be from the IRS, others were more vague. Anyone’s initial reaction is great concern – no one wants to be subject of a mysterious debt collection, a criminal investigation, or potential arrest. These are scams, plain and simple.

This is not to any call attempting to collect a debt that is a little scary is 100% a scam – there are many unscrupulous debt collectors out there. It is also entirely possible to say, forget about a charge on a little used store card and get a collections call. It is the “scare factor” that makes these scams effective and reveals them for what they are.

I attempted to call one of them back and see if I could reverse engineer their scam. After leading them on for a little bit they put me on hold to ‘pull my case file’ and after 30 seconds hung up. Half a dozen subsequent calls were disconnected moments after someone picked up. I suspect that while ‘pulling my case file’ they were doing a Google search on me and figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t a good mark and not worth wasting their time J

Here are a few ways to spot these scams:

1)    Do a Google search on the number or a reverse phone search – I’ve found to be a pretty good crowd sourced way to identify scam calls.

2)    Find an alternative call-back number – your caller ID and often the call back number for legitimate call centers will be different. A typical call center will have one main number coming in, and many going out. Find out who they claim to be and find a different number.

3)    Suspect calls that do not have an IVR – I know this sounds strange, but the reality is that most legitimate call centers will have IVRs before you can speak to a person. If a person immediately picks up at a legitimate call center you are likely a super-user with a well established relationship. This is not foolproof, but an indicator of call center schemes today.

4)    Suspect requests for non-public information – while many of us have become accustomed to answering some authentication questions with non-public information, never share personal information, tax ID or payment details until 100% sure the call is legitimate.

5)    For one of numbers I received a call from, the comments at said the scammers were asking callers to buy gift cards or prepaid to pay the debts – huge red flag, that would certainly not happen from government or legitimate debt collectors.

6)    Check your mail – if you haven’t received something in the mail from the IRS or a debt collector, chances are they aren’t calling you.

7)    Don’t get too scared – if you have a legitimate legal issue you won’t be getting a voicemail saying the cops are going to come. That just doesn’t happen. If you have a legitimate legal issue you will get registered mail or physically served papers.

While these tips are US-centric, the main principles apply across the globe – do some research, don’t give up personal information, call an independently verifiable number, don’t get scared.



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Ben Knieff

Ben Knieff

Principal Consultant

Outside Look

Member since

10 Jun 2011


New York

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Information Security

The risks from Cyber cime - Hacking - Loss of Data Privacy - Identity Theft and other topical threats - can be greatly reduced by implementation of robust IT Security controls ...

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