5 Most Common Phone Scams: How to Spot Them and Protect Yourself


Jessica Truong Hacker Noon profile picture

@jtruongJessica Truong

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Phone scams, also known as Vishing, is a form of phishing attack where attackers “use social engineering to get you to share personal information and financial details, such as account numbers and passwords” (Norton). 

Vishing can be an easy way for attackers to gain confidential information. A vishing attack works because they appear to be a trusted source when they aren’t; they will spoof the caller ID to appear legitimate so people will answer the phone calls. This article will discuss the five most common phone scams that would allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.

Common Phone Scams:

  1. Bank or credit card has been compromised
  2. IRS tax scam
  3. Charity scam  
  4. Medicare or social security scam
  5. Loan scams

1. Bank or Credit Card Has Been Compromised

Typically, you will receive a phone call from a fraud claiming that they are an employee from your bank stating that there is an “issue with your account and/or a payment that you made” and will ask for your login credentials or ask you to make a new payment in order to resolve the issue (Norton). 

How to Protect Yourself

Please DO NOT give out any information, instead I would thank them for notifying you then hang up and then verify the phone number that called you. When you verify the phone number you can see whether or not it is the bank’s actual publicly available phone number. 

Don’t Answer ANY Questions

Do not give into any peer pressure from the scammer to take immediate action and do not say anything if the scammer asks “Can you hear me?” because they will record your response if you say “yes”. They will use your response against you as proof that you have agreed to a credit card charge or purchase.

2. IRS Tax Scam 

There are many variables of IRS scams however most likely you will receive a phone call with a prerecorded message. The message will tell you something along the lines of something is wrong with your tax return and that if you don’t call back, “a warrant would be issued for your arrest” (Norton). Keep in mind that scammers will spoof the caller ID to make it seem like the phone call is coming from the IRS (Norton). Therefore, you should understand “what the IRS can and can’t do when they need to contact you” (Norton).

3. Charity Scams


Scammers pretend to work for a charity and make requests for donations for disaster relief, for example. They will most likely give you an emotional story to convince you to donate money immediately via the phone.  

How to Protect Yourself

Always make sure to do your research on a charity before you donate anything, especially money to them

4. Medicare or Social Security Scam

According to the FTC, this is the number one method that scammers will use to reach older adults. Scammers pose as “Medicare representatives – often during Medicare open enrollment season – and try to glean financial information from the victim, such as their Medicare number or bank account details” (Norton). As a result the scammers will “either use the victim’s Medicare benefits or steal their money” (Norton). It is unfortunate that scammers would do this but they know that older adults are more vulnerable and easy to manipulate. 

Social security scams are another common one where scammers claim to be from the social security administration. They will “threaten to suspend or cancel the victim’s social security number” (Norton). The government agency would never call and threaten to cancel your social security number, so that should be a red flag for you.

5. Loan scams

Loan scams “include advance free loan scams, where scammers target people with a poor credit history and guarantee loans or credit cards for an up-front fee” (FTC Consumer Information).

How to Protect Yourself

Here are some tips to help protect yourself against loan scammers:

  • Hang up on pre-recorded messages
  • Search the loan company online to verify that they are legitimate 
  • Check to see if the lender is registered in your state – lenders must register where they perform their business

How to Protect Yourself from Phone Scams

Regardless of the type of phone scams, the following list are ways of what you can do to protect yourself from phone scams:

National Do Not Call Registry

  • Adding your phone number (home or mobile) to this registry will let telemarketers know that you do not want to receive phone calls from them
  • This doesn’t stop organizations such as charities and political groups from still calling your phone number

Don’t pick up the phone 

  • Let the call go straight to voicemail then listen to the message and decide whether to call the person back 

Hang up 

  • As soon as you can tell that the call is suspicious, hang up and block the number

Verify the caller’s identity 

  • If the caller provides a call-back number do not use it, instead search for the organization’s public number and call the organization 

Block and report spam calls 

  • Block phone numbers that have been calling you consistently 

Limit where and how you share your phone number

  • Please be careful as to how and where you share your phone number
  • For example, do you really need to share it on your social media accounts?

How to Spot a Phone Scam


These are a few key points to pay attention to when trying to recognize a phone scam. 

You have won a prize

You may receive a call from a scammer stating that you have been “selected” for an offer or that you have won a prize, but if you have to pay for the prize, then it’s not a prize 

You will be arrested

Real federal agents will never call and threaten you saying that you will be arrested if you don’t pay taxes or debts right away

You don’t need to decide right away

Real businesses will give you time to think over their offer and provide you with a written copy of the information about it before asking you to commit therefore you should take your time and do not feel pressured into doing something you are not comfortable with

No good reason to send cash or pay with a gift card

Scammers will always ask you to use a payment method that will make it difficult (or impossible) for you to get your money back (i.e. wire transfer, gift card, prepaid cash card, and money transfer application)

Government agencies will not call to confirm your sensitive information 

It is never a good idea to give out sensitive information to someone who calls you and asks you to confirm your social security number. 

Final Thoughts

Phone scams remain as a key weapon for scammers and a report from Truecaller found that roughly 59.4 Americans have lost money this past year due to phone scams. Roughly 19% were victims that fell for the phone scams more than once. This is very sad to hear that Americans are falling for phone scams and doing what the scammers are asking for. 

Therefore, it is extremely important that people are educated on the common phone scams and how to protect themselves from being manipulated. It is important to understand that these scammers are very good at what they do.

They are aware of the latest technologies and all of the loopholes to intimidate people to get them what they want. It is unfortunate to see that younger Americans are more susceptible to phone scams, especially males. All I can say to this is to educate yourself. If you pick up a phone call and it doesn’t seem right, hang up.


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