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How To Identify Imposter Scams & Robocalls

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Imposter scams come in many varieties, but work the same way: a scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money. As your trusted financial provider, we’re here to help you learn what they are and how to spot them.

What are imposter scams?

An imposter is anyone pretending to be someone they’re not. Imposters try to scam you with an unsolicited call posing as an agent with a company you trust, like a well-known retailer, your utility company, your bank or credit union, or even the federal government. They contact you about an urgent matter, try to con you into making a rash decision to provide them with money or personal financial information, and then disappear, leaving you empty-handed.

What are robocalls?

Imposter scams can work in conjunction with a robocall. Robocalls are typically pre-recorded messages, where the recorded caller’s voice might be from a real person, or it may be autogenerated. Some robocalls are legitimate and provide important or emergency information such as flight cancellations or appointment reminders. During election seasons you may receive robocalls from political candidates trying to earn your vote. More often than not though, robocalls are illegal spam.

Spam robocalls come from fraudsters with one intention: to steal from you. These calls come from a fake name and phone number, and the recorded message asks you to press a button to consent to a purchase transaction — like renewing your car’s auto warranty — or to be transferred to a representative to deal with an urgent matter. That “representative” is a fraudster trying to scam you.

Is your auto warranty about to expire? Do you suddenly owe money to the IRS? Or maybe there’s suspicious activity or a billing error on your Amazon account. Don’t worry; “Travis” from the fraud department will take care of it for you — he just needs your online banking password, your debit card PIN, or access to your device to provide assistance.

“Press 1” and he’s got it handled.

Think again.

Travis is not your friend.

Calls like this are usually phone scams. The caller might sound friendly and helpful. Or they might try to intimidate and scare you to “act now.” Whatever the case, it’s a con. They aren’t trying to do you any favors; they’re out for your money. Know what to look for, and don’t fall prey to the schemes.

How to identify these scams

If you answer an unsolicited call and think it might be a scam, ask yourself the questions below.

Are they asking for money?
Imposter scams often ask you to buy a gift card or wire funds to the scammer. They may say you’ve won a prize or are eligible for a refund, but with one caveat — you must pay an upfront fee. These calls are always a scam. Never comply and send money to anyone you don’t know, no matter how convincing their story.

Do you have an account with the business?
If yes, check your email or login from a separate device and look for notifications of irregular activity. Look for a published support number on the business website or app and call directly to verify information.

Do they need access to your device?
Reputable businesses will never call out of the blue and ask to remotely access your device. Companies like Apple or Microsoft won’t contact you for tech support unless you’ve requested their help. Unsolicited calls to fix a computer are a scam, so never allow remote access to your personal device.

Are they asking for sensitive information?
Scammers try to get your online banking credentials, card or account info, or other personal information to commit identity theft. Reputable businesses will not ask for this information. Never give it out on a call you haven’t initiated or that you can’t identify as legitimate.

Receive a bunch of texts during the call?
Sometimes scammers send one-time passcodes or alert notifications to your phone while you’re speaking with them to seem more legitimate. If you receive these, read them carefully before responding. Look for poor grammar or misspellings as an indication of fraud.

5 Tips to avoid phone scams

  1. Don’t answer.
    The easiest way to avoid phone scam fraud is to simply not take the call. A legitimate business caller or acquaintance will likely leave a voicemail. Most large retailers aren’t going to contact you about an issue with an unsolicited call in the first place; they’ll send an email.

  2. Don’t trust your caller ID.
    Imposters and robocalls use a tactic called spoofing to fake a name and phone number on your caller ID. Often, the number looks like it belongs to a local area code to make you think it’s legitimate. Don’t trust it. If you don’t know who the call is from, don’t say hello.

  3. Silence spam calls on your phone.
    Most Android and iOS devices have a feature to filter or silence spam calls for you. Calls are auto-forwarded to voicemail but show in your call history.

  4. Use your phone carrier blocking tools.
    The FCC requires mobile carriers to provide a caller ID authentication tool called STIR/SHAKEN that helps block known spam calls or alerts you when a call is suspected spam. Your mobile plan typically includes this feature automatically but check with your carrier for any opt-in or app download requirements to enable it.

  5. Use a third-party call-blocking app.
    There are free or paid call-blocking apps you can use for greater peace of mind.