While many think of cybersecurity and picture computers and complicated code, the truth is many scams still rely on human connection and fear. Countless scams begin with a phone call that tells the victim someone has made a fraudulent purchase with their account or that they need to verify personal information. The scammer poses as a helper to gain the trust of the victim and then defraud them. For example, here is a story I heard this week…
Elaine’s phone rang one afternoon. She didn’t recognize the number but she picked up. The voice on the other end said they were from Amazon and they wanted to confirm if she just purchased a $700 laptop. Elaine had not purchased a laptop and told the caller so.
The caller reassured her that it was no problem—he could help her resolve this issue. He asked her to go to her computer and type in a web address. The URL led her to a remote desktop download. Being savvy about her cybersecurity, Elaine stopped and told the caller she was not comfortable downloading any software onto her computer considering she did not know who he was. The caller tried to reassure her by directing her to search his name on Amazon. It listed him as a tech specialist but there was no way to confirm that he was truly the person he said he was.
Elaine did the right thing and told the caller she was not going to download the software and she would resolve the charge with her credit card company instead. She hung up the phone and successfully avoided a scam that could have done serious damage to her computer and bank account.
This story is a great reminder that many of the scams we see begin with a phone call and a conversation. If the caller had convinced her to download the remote desktop software, what could have happened? For one, the caller would have been able to see everything on Elaine’s computer and access passwords and documents. He could have also easily installed malware that could have collected more information or done damage to the computer.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself from phone scams like this.
Be aware and alert
The first key to avoiding a scam like this is being aware that they exist and still occur frequently. Awareness allows you to think critically if you receive a call that may be fraudulent. If you receive a call from an unknown number, consider just sending it to voicemail. If you do decide to answer, be on alert for any warning signs of a scam. Some warning signs include asking you to divulge personal information or requiring you to download anything on your computer.
Verify the phone number and caller
If you are ever unsure about a phone call you receive, tell the caller that you are going to hang up and call the company number directly. When you do this, do not call back the number that called you. Instead, look up the phone number for the company online and call that number. When someone answers, you can verify that the person who called you is an employee or see if what they were saying is true.
Many scammers will “spoof” the phone number they call you from to look like a legitimate company. You cannot simply trust your caller ID because of this. Always hang up and call the correct number back directly.
Take your time
If someone calls you to confirm a fraudulent purchase or asks for personal information, pause before responding. These scammers rely on urgency and fear to get you to act quickly. Take a moment to think about what they are saying and remember your cybersecurity principles. It is easy to react quickly when your money is on the line—take a moment to breathe and think.
This phone scam using Amazon is one we have had at our house. We had a message left on our voicemail that there was a charge from Amazon they wanted to verify. First time was a gut kick. After taking a deep breath, I checked our Amazon account. No activity that wasn’t ours. Then we checked our credit card activity – again, nothing that wasn’t ours.
I was a little surprised to get a second call with the same scam a couple of months later. The scammers are persistent because they are getting results. Don’t be one of their victims.
Phone scams are still a common occurrence. Scammers rely on making that human connection and appealing to your emotions over the phone. It is always important to be cautious when receiving calls from numbers you don’t know or recognize. Think twice before sharing any personal information or downloading anything on your computer.