Repost of article written by Kim Komando, Special for USA TODAY
If I asked you what the number one scam in America is right now, you might say phishing email scams, Facebook scams, Nigerian 419 scams, sweetheart scams or any number of other scam types.
However, you're probably thinking a little too digital.
The largest type of scam actually uses an older technology that you have in your home right now. Yes, it's the humble phone scam.
Phone security company Pindrop Security does an annual "State of Phone Fraud" report and it found some disturbing things. For example, there are more than 86 million scam calls every month, and that's just in the U.S.
To put it another way, one in every 2,200 phone calls is a scam call. That's up 30% from 2013, which means it's only going to get worse. If you haven't gotten a scam call yet, it's almost certain you will.
Part of the problem with detecting phone scams is that there are so many. It could be an automated robocall telling you that you won a prize and need to call a number and give them personal information to claim it. Or it could be the "IRS" saying there was a problem with your taxes and you need to pay right away to avoid going to jail.
Another common one is the phone tech support scam. This is where someone calls you pretending to be from Microsoft, or even "Windows," and claims you have viruses on your computer. However, if you let them on to "clean" it, they'll really install viruses and charge you a bunch of money. Learn exactly how one of my savvy listeners dealt with this type of scam and what it can teach you.
Still, if you aren't paying attention, it's easy to get tricked, and scammers are really good at sounding genuine. One way to find them out is to throw the incoming number into a site like 800 Notes and see if it's a reported scam number.
However, scammers can also "spoof" phone numbers to make it appear that they're calling from legitimate places. For example, they might call you pretending to be the police and their number will be similar or the same as the one for your local police.
Fortunately, there are some rules you can follow to avoid being tricked in a phone scam. If you have older family members or friends, be sure to share this article with them.
1. Take your time
Scams work the best when the victim doesn't have time to think things through. If you panic and act without thinking, the scammer has you.
Never let yourself be rushed into anything, especially if the person is taking great pains to rush you. Take a few deep breaths and approach the situation calmly. Most scams will unravel with a little scrutiny.
Remember: There is no crisis so big that waiting few extra minutes, or even a few hours, is going to make a difference.
2. Ask questions
Don't be afraid to ask questions. You might feel like a bad person for questioning a "relative's" story about how they wound up in a Mexican jail and need you to send them money. If you aren't all that tech savvy, you might feel hesitant to argue with a knowledgeable tech support person.
Scammers know people feel this way and count on it to keep their victims from digging too deep. So start asking questions, "Why didn't you call your parents instead?" "Do you know what version of Windows I have?" "How can I win a prize if I didn't sign up for anything?"
The scammer might have answers prepared for some of these, but keep asking and eventually their story will unravel. Or they'll decide you're too much trouble and leave the conversation.
3. Verify the answers
Don't just take the word of the person on the phone. If it's a relative calling from overseas, get a number you can call them back on.
Then call the regular number you have for that person, or their parents, or spouse, or any other relatives who might know their travel plans. Check their Facebook page and see if they've mentioned traveling (most people do, even though it's not a good idea).
If the person is claiming to be from a company, get their name and department. Then go look up the company's number on the Internet and call that. Ask for the person and see if they work there.
Just telling a scammer you're going to do this is often enough to throw them off. Even if they're OK with it, take the time they're off the phone to call up a tech-savvy or finance-savvy relative and see if the story checks out.
4. Don't pay
There is no situation where you should give your payment information or Social Security number to an unsolicited caller. Some companies will take payment information over the phone, but you're usually calling them. Similarly, most companies that deal with a Social Security number will already have it and ask you only for the last four digits.
Another red flag is the caller asking for a wire money transfer. Wire transfers are a favorite tool of scammers because once you send the money it's gone forever. If you hear the words "wire transfer," "Western Union," "moneygram" or the name of another wire transfer service, assume it's a scam.
5. Don't engage
If you figure out that the person calling you is a scammer, the best thing to do is hang up. You might be tempted to string them along, like this security expert, but that can get scary. One "victim" was playing with a scammer and it turned ugly when the scammer said, "I'm thinking to kill you now." Listen to the chilling conversation.
- Instead, you can report scams to the Federal Communications Commission. You can also fire off a message to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. However, don't expect too much in the way of response.
- Your best bet is to share your story with your friends and family so they aren't fooled. You can also add the numbers the scammer gave you to 800 Notes to help other people avoid a similar scam.
- If you're getting scam calls on your smartphone, grab an app like TrueCaller that will help identify and block them before you pick up.
- Make sure all your phones are on the Do Not Call list so you know any unsolicited robocalls or telemarketing calls are most likely spam. Learn three things you need to know about the Do Not Call registry.
About The Author
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.