How many times have you answered the phone to be greeted by silence or a robocaller prompting you for information? Depending on your response, you could be a potential victim of fraud. Tens of thousands of people are receiving these types of calls daily from scammers targeting unsuspecting consumers for theft. The Federal Trade Commission says a big reason for the recent increase in illegal robocalls is that perpetrators have access to cheap Internet-based phone systems, making it easy to call from anywhere in the world while displaying fake caller IDs.
The scam works like this: Fraudsters first compile a list of viable phone numbers. They grab this information by hacking into retailer databases or by soliciting numbers through online contests. Calls will then be made to unsuspecting individuals. The key is to engage someone on the other end to verify it is a working number.
Next, the scammers will seek to collect information from bank or credit card accounts. They will ask for this information through a number of pretenses, or direct the individual to call a 1-800 number where an automated system will prompt one to share personal information. Next, using the personal information acquired, the victim’s financial institution is contacted their account is hijacked.
National Public Radio’s Aarti Shahani interviewed Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO of Pindrop Security, a firm that investigates and exposes phone fraud, about this growing trend of theft by phone. Balasubramaniyan stated that these criminals will use fear to target their victims. They will pose as an IRS agent seeking payment and threaten a law enforcement response, or they will create scenarios where a bank or credit card account supposedly needs the customer’s urgent attention.
To research phone fraud, Pindrop created a list of inactive phone numbers to attract scammers. Their investigations have yielded interesting results. Returning a 1-877 call from one’s number, dialed by the scammer, will result in being asked for personal information. Placing the same call from a different number will return a response that the number dialed is no longer active — a clever trick meant to throw investigators off the case. In addition, Pindrop has discovered that approximately 1 in 2,200 calls is an attempt at fraud. Further, fraudsters are highly organized within criminal rings. The most skillful criminal will target large accounts.
Pindrop Security has created a tool to help rank the authenticity of a caller using certain clues. For example, Internet-based phones break up voice into packets of information for transmission across the network. A loss of packets can result in tell-tale stuttering audio revealing an Internet phone call. Call quality, identification of phone devices and brands can also reveal a lot about the scam potential of a call. Pindrop uses approximately 147 clues to rank calls on their possibility of fraud. Large financial institutions and other Pindrop customers use this information to combat phone scammers.
Consumers can be proactive by not engaging with unknown automated callers. If you need to call your bank, experts recommend using the number on the back of one’s credit card or debit card. The FTC advises consumers ignore unsolicited automated calls. Engaging with a robocall will lead to additional calls. It is best to hang up!