How to Identify a Phone Scam

How to Identify a Phone Scam

Last week, we covered the five most common phone scams that are happening right now, but those certainly don’t cover every phone scam that is out there. Since scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to steal unsuspecting people’s money, we are going to talk about how you can recognize a phone scam right away. We will also be giving you information on what to do if you get these type of phone calls.

How to Spot a Phone Scam:

If any of the below happen to you, you are likely dealing with a scammer. Here is what you should look out for:

They tell you that you’ve won something that you never entered to win.

If someone calls you and tries to tell you that you’ve won a prize or lottery that you never entered, it is most definitely a scam. They will tell you that all you need to do is pay for shipping to receive your free prize, or that you need to pay a fee or taxes to have your winnings processed.

Scams like these have cost some people their life savings. If you receive a call saying that you have won a prize you never entered to win, you haven’t won anything and it is scam.

The “debt collector” will threaten jail time if you do not pay immediately.

If someone says that they will call the police and have you thrown in jail if you do not pay your bill/taxes/what have you at once, you can rest assured that nothing will happen to you. You cannot go to jail for missing a loan payment, and if you have been audited for tax fraud, the IRS would have sent you letters or visited you in person, not call and threaten to throw you in jail. This is a common scare tactic used to convince people to pay for a collection that does not exist, and it is also a sure-fire way to spot a scam.

The person asks you to pay via a wire transfer or gift cards.

Whatever the scam may be, scammers prefer wire transfers as they are untraceable. If you decline to do a wire transfer, many will tell you that Visa or Amazon gift cards will be an acceptable form of payment as well (again, they are difficult to trace).

If someone claiming to be a debt collector or the IRS asks you to pay in either of these methods, you can be sure that it is a scam. Don’t ever make a payment like this over the phone because it will be difficult (if not impossible) for the authorities to get involved.


The person refuses or is hesitant to tell you the name of their company.

Any reputable agency will have no problem telling you the name of their company. Most organizations will tell you their name as they introduce themselves. For example, if we call you, we will say, “hello, this is so-and-so from POECU.”

If the person on the phone doesn’t want to tell you the name of their company, you can bet that something fishy is going on. Do not buy anything or give out any information to someone who won’t tell you their company’s name.

You are unable to trace the phone number.

In the same vein as above, any reputable company is going to have their phone number listed online. If a call seems suspicious to you, get off the phone with them and Google the phone number. If you are having trouble matching the phone number with a company, or if the phone number isn’t the one listed for the company they are claiming to be from, you can bet that the person on the phone was trying to scam you.

They ask for information that they should already have.

If someone claiming to be from your financial institution asks to confirm your credit card information or someone claiming to be from your insurance company asks to confirm your social security number, do not give it to them. These institutions should already have that information and will not need to ask you to confirm it.

The phone number calling you begins with the first three digits of your own phone number.

This seems to be a more recent development in the phone scam world. Since people have begun blocking phone numbers from scam calls, scammers have started using apps to create fake numbers to get around the blocks. Many times, these apps will end up creating phone numbers that match the first three digits of your own phone number. If you see a call like this pop up on your screen, you can just ignore it as it is likely a scam call.

What to do if you get a scam call:

1. Hang up the call as soon as you realize that it is a scam.

If any of the above events happen to you while you are on a call, go with your gut and hang up the phone. It’s better to be rude to a scammer than lose your money and identity.

2. Report your experience and the phone number to the FTC

Although the recent use of fake phone numbers is making it harder to report scammers, take the time to report the call anyway as there is a chance that they are using their real phone number. You can do your part in helping the FTC to stop these scam calls.



 3. Block the phone number.

Finally, take a second to block the phone number that called you, so they cannot bother you again.


The best thing you can do is ignore any call that comes through where the phone number is not already listed in your contacts. Even if it has your area code, ignore it. If it is an important call (such as a call from your doctor’s office), they will leave a voicemail. Otherwise, there is no need to worry about it.

Rachel Morris