[PHONE SCAMS] Are You Among the Most Gullible?

Category: Telephony

Losses due to phone scams in the U.S. have continued to skyrocket from year to year. Americans lost an estimated $29.8 billion to phone scams in the past 12 months, according to the latest Truecaller Insights US Spam & Scam Report. More than 59 million people (almost 1 in 4 adults) lost money to phone scammers last year, up from 1 in 5 the previous year, and that number is the highest it's been in five years. You'll be surprised to learn who is most likely to fall for a phone scam. Read on!

What Group Most Often Falls for Phone Scams

Are people getting dumber, or are scammers getting smarter? Males (age 35-44) had the highest rate of gullibility, with a whopping 46% reporting they’d lost money to phone scams in the past twelve months. Among women, the age group most susceptible were the 18-34 year olds, with 31% reporting being scammed.

You might think that senior citizens would be the most likely to get scammed. But actually it appears that the younger generations, who grew up with tech and don’t view it skeptically, are more likely to fall for a phone scam than their elders. The number of scam victims in the 55-64 age group was 15% and in the 65+ age group it dropped to about 5%. The 2021 spam and scam report also found that 85% of all scam calls targeted mobile phones.

Across all age and gender groups, the average amount of money lost due to scam calls was $502, a 43% increase over last year.

The Federal Trade Commission says phone scams have gotten worse during the pandemic. About 60% of Americans received scam texts or phone related to COVID-19. The FTC reports that they have received more than 130,000 complaints in the past few months, relating to “unsubstantiated health claims, robocalls, privacy and data security concerns, sham charities, online shopping fraud, phishing scams, work-at-home scams, credit scams, and fake mortgage and student loan relief schemes.”

Phone Scams

Many phone scams do target older Americans; that’s well documented by other, long-running research. Older people tend to have more money to steal; they’re more compassionate and trusting; and they use government services that are readily adapted to scammers’ nefarious purposes.

Medicare is a favorite subterfuge of phone scammers. Selling "supplemental Medicare Part D insurance" is pretty easy, especially if the price is exceptionally low because the product doesn’t exist. Mobility scooters, walk-in bathtubs, and other hardware are also scammer favorites, with the lure that “Medicare will pay for every dime.” Usually, either the price is inflated or the product is of low quality. The victims, in such cases, are Medicare and all taxpayers.


Tech support and virus hoaxes are also popular among phone scammers. The immediacy of a phone call works in the scammer’s favor. When “Microsoft tech support” is on the line, urgently telling what you must do to stop the malware that’s infected your computer, you just don’t take time to think, "How would Microsoft know my PC’s infected?" Or, "How did my Mac get infected with a Windows virus?" If you get a phone call like this, do not let the caller initiate a remote login or screen share. Hang up and run a malware scan with your anti-virus tool. (See my article PC Matic Gets a Zero! for my recommended security software.)

“Your account has been frozen.” Again, the immediacy of a phone call leads people to provide “verification” details, including their account login credentials and PIN, without stopping to verify that the account actually is frozen. No financial institution asks for security details by phone, ever. Never respond immediately such claims. Take a breath, investigate, and respond accordingly.

Recently I've been getting calls claiming to be the local power utility company, telling me that my service will be shut off in 30 minutes, unless I pay an overdue amount. The number on the caller-ID is the correct number for the utility, but it's been spoofed. Another tip-off -- I moved 2 years ago, and that company no longer is my electricity supplier. I also get "apology calls" supposedly from my electric utility, offering rebates for being overcharged.

“Trust us, we’re from The Government” actually still works on some people. But no, the FBI doesn’t settle cases by taking credit card numbers over the phone. Neither does the IRS make collection threats by phone. Callers impersonating federal agents may provide a (bogus) badge number, or even claim the police are on the way to arrest you. On the flipside, the IRS does not call for your bank account details to deliver rebates or refunds.

Winners and Losers

“You’ve won _________ !” No, you haven’t. Even if you did, you don’t have to provide bank account details or pay anything to collect a prize or money. For a while recently, I was getting daily calls from an 876 number in Jamaica, informing me that I won two million dollars and a new Mercedes Benz. The catch is that you must send several thousand dollars to secure your prize and arrange for transport. When I tell the caller to keep the car and just mail a check, they lose interest in me right away.

Surprisingly, “You can pay your income taxes at any 7-Eleven” is NOT a scam or hoax. The IRS really is partnering with 7-Eleven, Dollar General, Family Dollar, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Pilot Travel Centers, Speedway, and other retail stores to collect cash payments from people who lack bank accounts. I think that’s a very bad idea because scammers will pervert this program to their purposes. Don’t listen to anyone who says he’s from the IRS and will meet you at 7-Eleven to collect your taxes.

Nomorobo is one company that offers anti-spam services. The company, which won the FTC’s Robocall Challlenge, in which many companies competed to come up with the best anti-robocall technology. Nomorobo has crowd-sourced over half a million phone numbers used by spammers, and adds new numbers identified as spammers or scammers by its customers.

Another tool to help block scam calls is the TrueCaller app, which attempts to match your incoming caller to one of the 2 billion phone numbers in TrueCaller’s database and provide some clues to the caller’s identity. The free app also blocks unknown callers, those who disable caller-ID, and specific numbers.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "[PHONE SCAMS] Are You Among the Most Gullible?"

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

The answer is still the same. If someone calls you and requests money and/or information hang up and back away from the phone slowly. If you're concerned do not call the number they provided or the one on the caller ID. Look up the number of the agency, etc. and call them.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

The answer is still the same. If someone calls you and requests money and/or information hang up and back away from the phone slowly. If you're concerned do not call the number they provided or the one on the caller ID. Look up the number of the agency, etc. and call them.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

I have been using YouMail on my phone for years. It started in 2007 as a visual voicemail replacement for the carrier voicemails, which at that time usually required you to dial in to pick up your voicemail. It was much better and easier to use than the phone carriers voicemail. Later it added scam call blocking. I find it one of the best. Basic service is free, but they do have some paid advanced services.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

Nomorobo is pretty good, but doesn't work on traditional POTS ("plain old telephone service") landlines(the kind that most people don't have anymore, but I do). It requires "simultaneous ring" technology which the phone companies aren't going to implement on the old landline switches. Nomorobo does work on modern lines (VOIP, AT&T Uverse, cable "landlines", etc.). Since I have an old AT&T landline and also a Comcast cable "landline", I forward my AT&T line to my Comcast line for incoming calls so I can get Nomorobo.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

Yea, I had many dealings with these low-life scumbags.
When I played stupid with them and followed along then they realized that I was messing with them. They ended up hurling swear words at me and hanging up. Really? you're trying to rip me off and you have an attitude. These scum are brainless, morons with an I.Q. of a doughnut. I even try to put the fear of God with them telling them that their god will get them or I say I put a curse on you. Maybe that might help. Sometimes I get so mad I hurl swear words at them. My sister told them that would they like that to happen to their mothers or sisters and they responded with something like, oh you realize what's going on and didn't pursue it. In other words then didn't give a damn that they target certain people and steal their money. They are heartless scumbags they would probably rip their own mothers off for the almighty dollar.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

We too still have a landline. We have always received some spam calls but lately there have been almost none. Of course, we just hang up on what we do receive. But I'm in Canada and I have the impression that we are doing better than you on spam calls.

Posted by:

Russell Baldwin
21 Jan 2022

I have been getting Medicare calls, and I'm not old enough for benefits yet. I talked with an individual from an insurance company and commented they were having the same problem. The response was... Ask for a 'righting number?' or, better yet, ask for their NPN number... Some quick info may help understanding that NPN number and the person said to ask for it, and if they ask why? So you can report them... Chances are they may just hang up and quit bugging you

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Agent and Broker Federally-facilitated Marketplace (FFM) Registration Completion List contains the National Producer Numbers (NPNs) for agents and brokers who have completed Marketplace registration and training for the current plan year.

The Registration Completion List has a NPN Validation column to indicate if an agent’s or broker’s NPN has been validated by being checked against the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR) database. A valid NPN with an active licensure status and health care-related line of authority (LOA) in at least one Federally-facilitated Marketplace (FFM) state are required to receive a “Yes” in the current year NPN Validation column. Agents and brokers with a “No” in the current year NPN Validation column are considered not confirmed via the check against the NIPR database.

If your NPN cannot be validated, your contact information will be removed from Find Local Help on HealthCare.gov and you will not be able to participate in Help On Demand until CMS can validate that you are a licensed health agent or broker.

Perhaps this can be of help to someone getting bothered by medicare cold calls, which are not supposed to happen

Posted by:

Nigel Appleby
21 Jan 2022

I had a couple of responses when I got calls from "microsoft". Either, which computer is it? Or, I din't know Linux sent messages to Microsoft. Or sometimes if I wasbored I would just play really dumb and keep them on the phone as long as possible.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

How about the so called BirCoin sellers???

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

I have a voicemail response that includes "I don't recognize the number, please leave a message." I don't answer calls when I don't recognize the number. If they're a legit caller they can leave a message. I'll call back. Some callers won't, but that's not my problem. If they really want to talk to me they will.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

After 1st year of Medicare open enrollment with 30-40 incoming calls each day, I wised up and turned off voicemail. I never answered unexpected calls, but they never left messages on my voicemail. Working from home, still not answering calls, it's easy to scan Caller ID and quickly activate voicemail for recognized and expected calls, but deactivate voicemail for remainder of day. Scam callers just ring and ring and ring, then they give up and hang up. Amazingly after just 6 months, virtually all scam calls (and Medicare insurance calls) stopped. Now four years later, I might get 2 or 3 unwanted calls in a WEEK. I also changed my voicemail announcement from my voice back to manufacturers default recording. Maybe the bulk of scam calls stopped because they couldn't tell if mine was a working number? Just refuse to play in their game. Serenity now!

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

My cell message says "You have reached *********** I don't answer calls that are not in my contact list. If you leave a message I may call you back but no message, no return call. Hope you have a great day!" One of my sons tried to call me from a friends phone and I didn't answer so he called a half dozen times. FINALLY he left a message so I called him back. I never break that rule and sometimes don't answer when it shows someone who is in my contact list just because of spoofing. I have my cell phone for my benefit and convenience, not someone else.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

Quite a few years ago, I received a call from one of those hucksters. I started speaking German to him AND laughed. That got rid of him very quickly. This is an advantage of being multilingual.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2022

All those reported percentages are off by a factor of 2x.
I estimate over half to those scammed won't admit it.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
21 Jan 2022

I use a few very simple rules to avoid all types of scams:

1. NEVER give out ANY information over the phone (or over any other communications medium) - PERIOD!
2. "If I don't know you, I don't trust you".
3. To repeat myself, I NEVER give out ANY information unless I originate the contact.
4. To protect my smart phone, if I get a call from an unknown caller, I deny it. If the caller's legit,
and they really need to get in touch with me, they can call my home phone.

There are probably other things I do, but these are my generalized rules. These rules come from the fundamental concept of remaining skeptical (ZERO Trust), and I am a true skeptic. I employ skepticism in ALL forms of communication. No matter what I see/hear/read, if I cannot confirm it for myself, I refuse to trust/believe it. This attitude has served to protect me from phone scams, fake news, and other half-truths (essentially lies, but with a grain of truth mixed in), and even from getting malware on my PCs. My skepticism has helped to keep me on a fairly even keel when I'm using social media through the past four or five years too. If I cannot verify it to my own satisfaction (whether I agree with it or not), I refuse to believe/trust it.

About a decade or a decade and a half ago, my wife and I received a series of phone calls from a person who claimed to be "a detective calling from the police department". We never learned what he was actually after, because he was too vague about it. When we asked for his name and badge number so we could hang up then call him back, he said he was an FBI agent working with the local police department. We ended the call and contacted our local police department. They sent out an officer who witnessed the call back from this 'officer'. The uniformed officer who came to our home spoke with this fraudster but as far as I know, was unable to gather any useful information for any prosecution effort. He did get the incoming phone numbers from our phones call list. Ultimately, the scammer gave up and stopped calling (it took a few days). We gave the officer permission to put a trace on out phone to get the source of the calls. We never heard anything more about it. From that experience I learned a few things:

Don't engage in conversation (don't talk - period).
Just hang up.

Remember, if you've done nothing wrong the police have no reason to call. If you have, they'll come to your house in person to get you.

Microsoft Support will NEVER call you unless you have a support contract with them. If you do, they will have your account ID information to identify themselves with, and they will be more than happy for you to call back to be sure who you are talking to.

The bank will NEVER call you to tell you that your account is overdrawn (they want those overdraft fees).

No government agency will EVER call to confirm any of your personal information. If any such agency needs information, they will send you a form letter via your postal service. If anything seems amiss, you should already have valid contact information. Use it to call and confirm the authenticity of the mailing (I have done this, it works).

No business will call you to 'recover' contact/account information. They too will send a form letter via your postal service. Again, if you have an account with that company, you should also have contact information so you can contact them to verify the validity of the contact.

Think BEFORE you react. There's not much else to say,

Stay safe,


Posted by:

22 Jan 2022

Biggest scam call of all: politicians asking for contributions. Years ago I offered to contribute a kick in the butt. The caller asked if I was threatening the congressman. I replied that no, I felt that he needed a kick in the butt and I was willing to provide it. No more calls from that clown.

Posted by:

Peter Oh
22 Jan 2022

Really Bob? Truecaller? The download is an .apk file whatever that is. Not even sure now it it's suitable for a W10 desktop. It took more time farting around with this than reading your article. Please be a bit more thorough when recommending such weird SW.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Truecaller is an app for Android and iPhone. It's recommended that you get it from Google Play or Apple Store, which will install it automatically.

Posted by:

22 Jan 2022

I use magicJack on my home phone. It plugs into your router and phone calls go across your internet connection, just like your phone service with your cable provider, etc.

With the Automated Call Screening option turned on, and I quote from their help file:

"the caller will be asked to dial a random one digit number. When calls come from an automated service, it is unlikely the service will provide the requested digit and the call will be disconnected. However, if the caller does push the requested digit within the 12 second window, the call will ring normally on your magicJack phone(s)."

I haven't had a bad call in the three years that I have been using this. When my house phone rings, I know that there is a human on the line that I want to talk to. That has been the case virtually 100% of the time. The exception has been local election time. The local election teams are real people calling, so they press the requested digit to get through. In the three years, that has amounted to less than 10 calls!

Posted by:

24 Jan 2022

Tim, thanks for the heads up on that Automated Call Screening with MagicJack. I've used MagicJack for many years and did not know that feature even existed. I have activated it for both my home and business MagicJack numbers. I have been getting a lot of calls on my home phone which only accepts messages (recorded) and most of the time (99%), no one leaves a message. This will eliminate the calls from coming through at all.

On my cell phone, I use the Google call screening service which asks the caller to say their name and what they are calling about which is presented on my phone as a transcript in real time. Again, most of the callers just hang up but I answer legitimate calls when appropriate.

I am now covered on all 3 phone numbers. Life is good!

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