Five Common Types of Spam Calls and How to Outsmart the Best of Them

The generation of caller ID was a new era. Although the system was developed in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that caller ID began to make its way into U.S. households. What a time to be alive! 

The phone rings, you look at the number of who is calling, and you can decide whether to answer the phone or not. 

Back then, caller ID was a big deal. But today, we might not think twice about it. We grew up in the generation of the internet! We hurried home after school to watch TRL (you know, back when MTV actually played music!), talked to our friends on AOL instant messenger, and begged our parents for the new Motorola Razr cell phone so we could play Snake and learn to text.

With the rise of cell phones came unwanted calls, such as telemarketers asking you to buy their new products or a robocall automated message promising to clear your student loan debt. We all know that spam calls are annoying. Nobody wants to receive multiple calls a day offering “too good to be true” deals. But they’re not just irritating. They’re dangerous as well.

Spam calls are becoming more advanced by the day, and even the most tech-savvy people are falling susceptible to fraudulent calls. TechCrunch reports that in 2018, an estimated 43 million Americans fell victim to scam callers and lost approximately $10.5 billion. And in 2019, spam calls increased by 18% worldwide and by 35% in the United States. That number continues to grow every day.

One of the easiest ways scammers can trick you into answering the phone and giving up information is by spoofing their phone number. When that happens, the scam caller will mask their phone number to have a similar phone number as yours, usually with the same area code. Most of these spoofed-number calls will have an automated message when you pick up the phone. If the message asks you a yes or no question or asks you to enter a number, DON’T! The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, recommends that you immediately hang up the phone and file a complaint.

We all know spam callers are getting more creative. It’s hard to tell the difference between a legit deal and a scammer these days! At Lori Smart(er) Phone Protection, we want to make sure you have the best device protection and service. We also want to help you learn how to take care of your phone in other ways, and that includes avoiding spam calls.


Here are the most common types of spam calls.


1. Debt consolidation calls

When you moved out of your parents’ house for the first time and drove to your college dormitory, did your parents have “the talk” with you? That is, don’t open up a credit card and make purchases you can’t afford! If you didn’t listen to your parents, you might get debt consolidation calls often. They are one of the most common types of spam calls.

Most of us have at least one credit card and probably don’t have it paid off. Others might even have multiple credit cards or are drowning in debt. Scammers use that information to their advantage. They know you want to pay off those cards as soon as possible so that it doesn’t affect your credit score.

If you receive a call from a loan consolidation company, it might be tempting to take them up on their offer. That’s what makes debt consolidation scam calls so dangerous. But if you fall for it, a debt consolidation scam can cost you thousands of dollars. 

2. Student loan repayment calls

Another common type of scam call is for student loan repayment. Scammers know you are vulnerable! You’re a recent college graduate and finally out in the real world. You’re working an entry-level job, living with roommates you found on Craigslist, and eating Ramen several times a week. 

All of your hard-earned money goes towards bills, yet you still owe thousands of dollars in student loans. If you receive a phone call offering to help you pay off those loans, there is a high chance it is a scam caller.

Although many companies offer help consolidating student loans or with repayment plans, always proceed with caution, the government will even help you consolidate your federal loans for free! If you have loans through a private company, speak with one of their representatives about consolidating your loans first before signing up with an outside company. 

If you receive a call offering to help consolidate your student loans and you’re still unsure if they are legit, check out this article by Nerdwallet for five red flag warning signs.


3. Health insurance calls

Insurance call scammers are some of the best. They usually spike toward the end of the year when open enrollment for health insurance ends. If you answer one of these calls, an automated message reminds you that “ABC Insurance is still accepting health insurance enrollments” and “sign up now before you miss out on our best deals.”

Spoiler alert: this is a scam! Insurance spam calls will ask for personal information before you even get to speak to a live person. If you know you’ve already signed up for health insurance, hang up the phone and block the number. If you haven’t signed up for open enrollment yet, check out healthcare coverage plans online.


4. “You won!” contest calls

Have you ever received a phone call congratulating you for winning a timeshare, a new flat-screen TV, or a vacation on a cruise ship? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Especially if you haven’t entered to win any contests recently. 

Sweepstakes or prize scam calls will often ask you to give up personal information to claim your prize. Asking for any information, such as your address or credit card number, should be an immediate red flag. Another red flag is offering to send your prize for free, but you need to pay for shipping and handling.


5. IRS tax fraud calls

With tax season quickly approaching, you are more likely to receive IRS tax fraud calls. This type of spam call will often be an automated voice message that states your tax return has been found fraudulent. They will likely ask that you call back as soon as possible to correct the problem or to send additional money that you might owe. Some of the most concerning calls from the “IRS” are ones that threaten to sue you or turn to law enforcement.

IRS tax fraud calls raise concerns every year around tax season. Chances are, you don’t owe any additional money, and you didn’t commit fraud. Although the IRS may call you regarding a problem with your taxes, it is doubtful. The IRS has put together a ton of great information on their website with more information about tax fraud calls and what to do if you receive one.


Here are some easy ways to outsmart even the best spam calls.


1. Don’t list your phone number online to get information.

If you’ve ever shopped around for new insurance or help on your student loans, you know they ask for a lot of detailed information. If you put down your phone number, chances are you will receive a call in less than five minutes from someone trying to give you more information.

If you can avoid putting down your phone number on these types of websites, that will lower your chances of receiving spam calls. But, if you have to put something down, we recommend creating a free Google Voice phone number. Use this phone number to find the best car insurance and then deactivate it! That way, spam callers won’t have access to your actual phone number.

We also recommend creating an email address to use for specific reasons. Are you planning a wedding and attending a ton of bridal shows? Use a separate email address when entering to win that honeymoon contest! Are you searching for the best way to consolidate your student loans? Make another one! Email addresses are free to make and this ensures that your personal inbox won’t get cluttered with junk emails.

 

2. Don’t answer unknown numbers - let them go to voicemail!

If you don’t know the number and aren’t expecting a phone call from a new phone number, just let your voice mail pick it up! If you answer the phone, a robocaller will know that your phone number is active, and they might add it to a call registry. You’ll be bombarded by even more spam calls after that.

Although this is the easiest way to screen your calls and make sure they are not spam or robocalls, it is not the most convenient. If you are applying for new jobs, looking for a new apartment downtown, or doing anything similar where you might receive a lot of calls from new numbers, we wouldn’t recommend ignoring all unknown numbers. We don’t want you to miss an urgent call just to avoid a spam caller.


3. Add your phone number to the National Do Not Call registry.

Adding your phone number to the National Do Not Call registry is another excellent way to avoid spam calls. True telemarketers are required by law to consult the registry before reaching out. If your phone number is on the list and you still receive phone calls from telemarketers or spam callers, you can file a complaint 31 days after your number was added.

The National Do Not Call registry does not include local charities, political calls, or surveys, so you might still receive some unwanted calls. If you don’t want to hear from them, or any telemarketers that might call, ask them to add your number to their do not call list, or to remove your number from their system.


4. Download a 3rd party app like Hiya to screen and block phone calls.

There are many apps out there that will block phone numbers, but Hiya is one of the best. Hiya is free and easy to use. If you receive a phone number that you believe is a scammer, enter the phone number into Hiya. The app will notify you if it is a telemarketer or fraudulent caller. You can then block the number in the app so that you can’t receive calls from them again.


5. Enable the spam-block setting on your phone or pay your carrier to do it.

Newer iPhone and Androids offer spam-blocking within their settings. If you have an iPhone, go to your phone call settings and silence unknown callers. Turning the setting on will block any phone number that comes through with an “unknown” caller ID. If you have an Android, open your phone call app and go to settings. From there, you can block unknown callers or filter spam calls.

If you’d rather let your phone carrier deal with the spam calls, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon all offer their own version of spam blocking. By paying a few extra bucks a month, you can block or screen most spam calls. Check out this article by Zapier for even more information about blocking or filtering calls from scammers.


Spam calls are inconvenient and dangerous.

Our number one tip when it comes to answering or avoiding spam callers is never to give out personal information. If you answer the phone and suspect the caller is a scammer, hang up immediately. Never give your full name, address, credit card or social security numbers, or any other personal information. After hanging up the phone, just block the number immediately and file a complaint if needed.

Even the most tech-savvy millennials can fall victim to a fraudulent scam if it's good enough. At Lori, we want to help you avoid that falling victim to fraudulent callers and spam calls. Share this article with your friends and family, especially your older family members, who might be more trusting when they receive phone calls.