Unwanted Spam Calls

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Now that our tech overlords have unleashed the power of artificial intelligence (hooray!), fraudsters can now use text-to-speech AI to convincingly impersonate your loved ones. We’re talking about full-on voice cloning.

If that isn’t enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, then how about this: Successful phone scams led to a median of $1,400 in losses per person in 2022, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Luckily, we’ve got a couple of tips to keep your money safe from phone scammers, swindlers, and con artists, including a list of area codes not to answer.

Never Answer Calls From These Area Codes

Fraudsters love the “one-ring” scam. Using auto-dialers to call phones across the country, scammers let each phone ring just long enough to leave a missed call notification. The idea is that you’ll wonder who it was and call back, only to rack up a pricey bill for calling some international number.

Beyond ignoring unfamiliar numbers, you can avoid returning calls from the following area codes, all of which the FTC says are associated with “one-ring” scams.

  • 268 - Antigua and Barbuda

  • 284- the British Virgin Islands

  • 473 - Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique

  • 664 - Montserrat

  • 649 - the Turks and Caicos Islands

  • 767 - the Commonwealth of Dominica

  • 809 - the Dominican Republic

  • 829 and 849 - the Dominican Republic

  • 876 - Jamaica

Other Common Phone Scams

Of course, scammers have a large repertoire of tricks to steal your money and personal information, some of which are pretty damn sordid. The most common ones include:

  • Imposter Scams: The caller will pretend to be an authority figure or someone they trust, such as a police officer, Internal Revenue Service agent, or family member.

  • Technical Support Scams: If you get a call from someone who wants to remove some virus or fix your computer, keep your guard up. It’s almost certainly a scammer.

  • Debt Scams: True swindling scumbags prey on people saddled with debt, offering to improve credit scores and forgive student loans for a fee. But they won’t follow through on their promise.

  • Lottery Scams: If someone declares you a winner, only to ask you to pay for the prize’s taxes and fees, then they’re probably swindling you.

  • Charity Scams: Scammers will stoop so low as to take advantage of your goodwill, posing as charities after a natural disaster. Instead of donating over the phone, consider giving through a site like Charity Navigator.

Staying Safe OnlinePhoto credit: Christopher Ames/istockphoto

How To Avoid Phone Scams

If a caller threatens you or makes a promise that sounds too good to be true, chances are you’re dealing with a fraudster. That’s especially true if they ask you to send them money or divulge personal information. Here are a few tips to keep from getting punked.

  • Take Your Time: Scammers usually call with a sense of urgency. They’ll say you’ve won a prize and need to claim it now, or they’ll impersonate a loved one and say that they need money as soon as possible. Instead of blindly agreeing to their requests, take time to think about and verify what they’re saying.

  • Be Skeptical: The Internal Revenue Service will never call before notifying you by mail. Likewise, companies need your written permission to call you with a robocall.

  • Don’t Answer Calls From Unfamiliar Numbers: If you don’t recognize a number, don’t answer. This gives you the chance to Google their number (and area code) and listen to their voicemail.

  • Don’t Send Money: Scammers will often insist that you send them money, especially via wire transfer, money transfer app, or gift card. Before you agree, take your time and make sure you know who you’re speaking to.

  • Block Calls: Although fraudsters often spoof their phone numbers, one way you can slow them down is to block their numbers. While that process will vary, we recommend that you ask your phone provider.

  • Join the National Do Not Call Registry: If you add your number to the Do Not Call Registry, then telemarketers legally can’t call you. Any sales calls you continue to receive are likely scammers.

The Bottom Line

Technology advances, time marches forward, and scammers get more and more sophisticated. But no matter how cunning fraudsters might be, the truth is that they can’t force you to answer the phone, demand your social security number, or strong-arm you into sending money. So be skeptical, and if you don’t recognize a number, don’t answer.

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