Hello, Is Anyone There? The Scoop on Scams and Ghost Calls

 

How many times a day do you get phone calls, but when you answer, nobody is there?

It probably goes something like this – the phone rings, you pick it up and say “Hello” but nobody answers. This is often termed a “ghost call”, and they can be annoying.

To fix this, you stop answering calls from distant area codes. You check before answering to see if you recognize the number and it looks like the caller is local. But it’s another ghost call!  This is called ‘Caller ID Spoofing” – that’s when a caller deliberately falsifies the phone number on your caller display. Scammers have ways to make these incoming calls look like numbers similar to yours – sometimes by showing a caller ID that starts with your local area code – to entice you to pick up the call.

 

Who is making these ghost calls?   

As it turns out, although nobody answers your “Hello”, there probably is “someone” on the other end of the line: an automated computer system that’s calling your number — and tens of thousands of others — to build a list of live targets for theft.

That initial call you get, with silence on the other end, is the first reconnaissance call that scammers do. They’re trying to see if the number they are calling is associated with a human on the other end. If you even cough, it knows you are there.

The next step for them is to attempt to gather personal information like your bank or credit card account number, date of birth, Social Security Number, credit score etc. They often do this by giving you a call with a prerecorded voice. For example, “We’re calling with an important message about your debit card. If you are the cardholder please stay on the line and press 1. Otherwise, please have the cardholder call us at 1-877…”

 

Don’t call them back!

Another reason you may be getting the call with no response is when calls are part of a massive, international scam called “Wangiri” which is a Japanese word that means “one cut”. The scamming companies rely on people calling the numbers back in order to make money. “This is basically a mobile premium scam, what happens is somebody calls you, lets the phone ring once and they do it multiple times,” the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Delia Rickard told Hack News. “If you call them back, you may be charged a premium. Much of the revenue from these calls go to the scammer.”

 

So with all these calls targeting you, what can you do about it?

1stDon’t pick-up or answer a call unless you recognize the number or are expecting a call at that particular moment. No one is going to call with an emergency and then not leave a message. Most “unknown” calls are from bill collectors, scammers, harassment or wrong numbers. Since it is your phone and it is for your convenience then you can choose when you answer it and when you do not.

 

2nd – If you do pick up accidentally – Just Hang Up

The FTC is trying to combat the rising number of illegal automated phone calls. “It is the No. 1 consumer complaint that we receive,” says Patty Hsue, an attorney who leads the FTC’s effort against robocalls. The agency receives an average of 170,000 complaints per month about robocalls”, she related to  NPR’s Audie Cornish. The FTC recommends that consumers “just hang up” on the robocalls.

“We don’t want consumers to engage in any way with robocallers,” Hsue says. “A lot of times when you get a robocall you have the option of pressing 1 for more information or pressing 2 to ask to be removed from the list. In either case, pressing 1 or 2 basically lets the robocaller know that it’s a live person on the other line who’s willing to engage and that most probably will lead to additional robocalls.”

 

3rd – If you think it may be a legitimate call, hang up and then check the website of the organization calling. Use the website contact number to talk with a service representative. If you can’t find a website, then check the number online and see if it is reported as a scam.

 

Safety tips on handling Robo or “Ghost” calls from the FTC:

  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, a mother’s maiden name, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request.
  • Use extreme caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voicemail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voicemail if you do not set a password. 
  • If you receive a call and you suspect caller ID information has been falsified, or you think the rules for protecting the privacy of your telephone number have been violated, you can file a complaint with the FTC. https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1

 

How do I stop telemarketers and scammers?

The first thing to do is immediately block the caller number. You can also register your numbers with the national Do Not Call list at no cost. The national Do Not Call list protects both landline and wireless phone numbers. You can register your numbers by calling 1-888-382-1222 (voice) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY) or https://www.donotcall.gov

 

Robo, telemarketers and “Ghost” calls are not only an inconvenience, they can also be extremely damaging if you don’t handle them correctly. Please take the time to check the number before answering and remind your family and friends to do the same!

 

Much of the information presented in this blog was originated by, NPR, Hack and the FTC.