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Identity Theft: Phone Scams

August 11, 2014

In this day and age, there are many ways that criminals can obtain confidential information in order to steal your money and your identity. Phishing is one of them and no one is immune to their attempts. This rampantly spreading scam occurs when a criminal poses as a legitimate company—often times as a company that you already use—in an attempt to get you to give out personal information (user names, passwords, credit card information, social security numbers, birth dates, etc).



These scams use fear, persistence and urgency to trick you into handing them the information they need to rob you and assume your identity. Phishing for private information can happen in several different ways.

Telemarketing fraud is one of the most frequent schemes. Telemarketing fraud, sometimes referred to as “vishing,”1 (voice phishing) has grown popular in recent years. Most of us now know to be wary of unfamiliar emails or website links, but according to the Chief Technologist of the FCC, “people don’t necessarily understand how untrustworthy caller ID has become.”1 When someone deliberately falsifies the number or the name that comes through on caller ID, it is referred to as “spoofing”2. They often falsify their number or their name so that you believe at first glance, that the person calling is from a trusted institution.


A fraudulent phone call will seek to obtain personal information from you in many ways, most often posing as a bank, law firm or company you use, such as a utility company. They will then use the information you provided to them to hack into your bank account, open credit cards under your name, or assume your identity entirely. There are several clues that will give you an idea if you are a victim of telemarketing fraud:

  • You are asked to type confidential numbers into your phone’s keypad (social security number, credit card number, date of birth, bank account, PIN, etc.)

  • You’ve won a prize, but must first pay a fee for postage or taxes3

  • You are asked to wire money, pay before receiving a service, put money on a prepaid card, or have a check picked up by a courier4

  • You are asked to repay a loan over the phone1

  • Urgency: You are forced to make a decision immediately or else you’ll “miss out”2


A reputable company would never ask you to reveal any type of confidential information in a way that violates their communication standards. If you’re unsure if a company that is contacting you is reputable, take your time. A real company will not force you to make a decision immediately. In fact, the terms of how a company agrees to communicate with you are stated in your Terms of Agreement and often in a company’s Privacy Policy. Those terms are often mailed to you annually, and they are often available on a company’s website.

If you receive a call with someone asking for any type of personal information, ask for the contact information from your caller, including the number and their mailing address. If they are a reputable company they should be able to provide that information seamlessly to you. Try to get off of the phone. Use your instinct to perceive whether they are comfortable allowing you to get off the phone or if they are more urgent to keep you on the phone. Compare the information they provide to you to the contact information that you’ve always had for that company—perhaps from old statements. Use your reputable contact information to call the company and start asking about the inquiry you received.


If you feel like someone is attempting to obtain personal information from you, document everything. Use resources like the Better Business Bureau or the National Fraud Information Center to confirm whether the source was valid or not [2]. A reputable financial advisor may also be able to do additional research on whoever is attempting to contact you, especially if they are trying to receive funds from you.

Remember, when it comes down to it, if you’re contacted about a deal that sounds too good to be true—it probably is.


Works Cited

1. Wingfield, Nick. “Swindlers Use Telephones, With Internet’s Tactics.” The New York Times 20 Jan. 2014, sec. B1: n. pag. Print.

2.  “Caller ID and Spoofing.” Home. Federal Communications Commission, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2014.

3. “Common Fraud Schemes: Telemarketing Fraud.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation , n.d. Web. 20 July 2014. <>.

4. Tompor, Susan. “Scams: Delete, avoid and hang up.” The Courier-Journal 20 Apr. 2014: 7B. Print.