[PHONE SCAMS] Who is Most Gullible?

Category: Telephony

Americans lost an estimated $10.5 billion to phone scams in the past 12 months, according to an online Harris Poll survey. It's reported that 1 in 6 adults lost money to phone scammers last year, up from 1 in 10 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? Male millennials (age 18-34) had the highest rate of gullibility, with a whopping 40% reporting they’d lost money to phone scams in the past twelve months. Only 28% of female millennials were tricked out of money, perhaps because they’re on guard against phone calls from male millennials.

Overall, 17% of more than 2,000 survey respondents admitted to being victims of phone scams in the past year. 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 phone scam report also found that 83% of all scam calls targeted mobile phones, and that parents with children under 18 years old more likely to be scammed. The most commonly reported spam and scam calls were for low-interest loans and credit cards, free vacations, and problems with a bank account.

Phone Scams

Many phone scams do target older Americans; that’s well documented by other, long-running research. Questions of mental competency aside, 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.

Term life insurance, often sold as “prepaid funeral services,” is another good scam. We really don’t know if life insurance exists until someone tries to collect it; by then, the scammer has all the money he’s going to get and may be long gone.


Are you fed up with robocalls from scammers and telemarketers? The Federal Communications Commission says more than 2 BILLION robocalls are placed every month! See my article A New Tool in the War on Robocallers for some practical tips on how to identify and block those annoying callers.

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 Free Antivirus Programs for my recommendations.)

“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.

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. (See my article Should You Answer That Call? to learn more about phone spoofing, and why you get so many robocalls that appear to be from your neighbors.)

“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 prize money. Tell the caller to just mail a check.

Surprisingly, “You can pay your income taxes in cash at any 7-11” is NOT a scam or hoax. The IRS really is partnering with 7,000 7-11 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 7-11 to collect your taxes.

I should note that the Harris Poll survey cited above was commissioned by TrueCaller.com. The company’s app for iOS, Android, and Windows devices 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] Who is Most Gullible?"

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

It doesn't surprise me at all. Most millennials are idiots.

Posted by:

paul merrills
25 Jun 2019

Inpixio photo clip is a scam of some type, you pay. then they want you to let them hook up to your computer to activate it, but then they tell you the computer has a problem like 200 or so virus or problems and for this amount of 400.00 we will fix it, then if you complain they lower the price to 250.00 if you still complain then they activate it, Not knowing what they might have done to the computer, I cleaned it and then tried to download my software,but anymore..you are out of luck if you want them again, No not going to happen, you lost your money and your program...maybe this could be investigated...

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

"Neither does the IRS make collection threats by phone." is not quite correct...depending on how you define, "threats." The IRS ACS (Automated Collection System) uses IRS call centers around the country to collect delinquent taxes. They can levy bank accounts and garnish wages, so if you owe back taxes and a caller "threatens" to do so, it may be legitimate.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

Ken, your comment says more about you than it does about millenials.

Bob, very interesting data! Awful to think how huge and profitable the scam industry has become. As scammers get more sophisticated in ways to reel people in, it's more and more important to help educate children, grandparents and everyone in between to refrain from interacting with strangers and to learn to independently confirm communications from "banks" or "credit card companies" or "IRS" that sound credible but often are frauds.

Thanks, Bob!

Posted by:

J.Thomas Chess
25 Jun 2019

My favorite responses to robo calls.

#1 "You are on the air"

#2 "They are all dead..there is blood everywhere'
What do I do now"

Posted by:

j b spence
25 Jun 2019

I love " Don’t listen to anyone who says he’s from the IRS and will meet you at 7-11 to collect your taxes." because that is prob. the only way to get your hands on one of those creeps (with police help of course).

Posted by:

L Harper
25 Jun 2019

My 89 yr neighbor has a landline..no caller ID. 90% of the calls here are spam. What she pays each month for this line is crazy. Mind you, she has a cell too. I’ve reminded her often of being mindful of pressing buttons, or giving out any information. I still believe senior citizens are more gullible.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

@Ken How sad that you choose to denigrate an entire group of people. Signed: A Boomer.

At this point, I rarely answer the phone unless I believe I know the caller. Even at that, I don’t give out information unless I initiated the call to the correct number of the institution with which I wish to speak. Yesterday, my doctor’s office called and asked me to confirm my medical record number (MRN) as a measure to prove they were actually talking to me. I know it was them, as I recognized the receptionist’s voice. However, I declined to give my MRN on principle, stating that I was not comfortable giving out info on a call I did not initiate. She understood, and told me I could call them back and continue the conversation. I am guessing I am not the first to decline to give out the MRN.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

Bob has recommended "nomorobo" in the past and we are signed up for it. It is free for VOIP numbers and $1.99 for smart phones.

You always wait for a second ring before answering.

One ring and a hang up could mean nomorobo blocked the call, or you were called by one of the one ring scams that get some folk to call back on a premium number that shows on the caller ID.

Either way, waiting for a second ring will (I hope) continue to keep us safe from fraudsters.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

I never answer a call that does not provide full caller ID that I recognize. Thats' the great advantage of voice mail. If it is legitimate, they will leave a message. (But they never do.)

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

I have been using NOMOROBO for a couple of years on my VOIP. Works pretty good, but still have to check the caller ID for numbers that do get through, as the fraudsters are learning quickly to get new numbers. I don't answer it if I don't know the number (even if it is from my own exchange). And I always check the caller id on my cell after picking up on a few scams (no, I did not stay at one of your anonymous resorts nor did you clean my carpets last year). If I goof and ignore a call, I figure the caller will leave a message on my voice mail.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

Any number that I don't recognise or that says 'unknown caller'is summarily blocked. Period.

Posted by:

Robert A.
25 Jun 2019

Back near the beginning of this year, I bought a new Panasonic cordless phone system, with a main, cordless console and four cordless extensions, One of the nice features of this system is the ability to block any calls that come through, by way of "Call Block" button on the handset. With my old system, I would receive sometimes 10, or more junk call a day, with most of them coming though after 6:00 p.m., while watching the news or prime-time programming. Now, with this new system feature, there are no more junk calls, I know the system works, because next to my desktop computer is my HP printer that has a fax feature that will ring once, and display the number of the incoming call, before being dumped by the phone system.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

I have Hiya (paid version), Verizon’s Call Filter, and RoboKiller (paid version & this is my favorite).

I even recorded my own RoboKiller answer-bot. It is so much fun to listen to people talking to my answerbot! Has me ROFL! ID10Ts all.

You must check out RoboKiller.

I like all three services.

Finally, the only time I answer a number I don’t know is if I am expecting a call from someone that I need to take but don’t know their number (e.g. a return call from a doctor’s office).

I had a call from “Verizon” one day, but it turned out to be a scam – they apparently were trying to get my account credentials so they could access my account. It started with a recording telling me to hold for a moment. Then a guy came on and thanked me for calling. (They called ME, remember? I googled the number and it was – in fact – a legit number for Verizon (my carrier). The number is actually on the Verizon website. The bad actor was spoofing Verizon’s number. You really have to be careful.

I like all three apps.

Finally, the only time I answer a number I don’t know, is if I am expecting a call from someone that I need to take but don’t know their number (e.g. a return call from a doctor’s office). All other times, if there is something important and valid, I figure they will leave a message.

I had a call from “Verizon” one day, but it turned out to be a scam – they apparently were trying to get my account credentials so they could access my account. I googled the number and it was – in fact – a legit number for Verizon (my carrier). The number is actually on the Verizon website. The bad actor was spoofing Verizon’s number. You really have to be careful.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

Thanks, Bob, for a very informative article. I have had more trouble with the tech spoofs than anything else. They almost fooled me the first time, but I Googled in the web site I was supposed to access and SPAM was the first word up. I hurriedly hung up.
So, I later consulted a very Geekie friend who wisely told me, "Microsoft doesn't care if you have a virus." Those words of wisdom have guided me ever since.

Posted by:

Patricia Re
25 Jun 2019

Another scam is Visa 'gift cards'. Got one for $25.00 when I redeemed it the first thing they did was deduct $7.95 for monthly charge. Apparently this is their ruse to get you to sign up for their direct deposit service(?). I made a purchase on Amazon using their card and have a $3.00 balance on the card. Tried to make another purchase but was declined. I had figured Amazon would use the $3.00 credit with the balance coming out of my regular credit card. But no. Not worth it to fight about. So, my well intentioned gift giver really gave me a $25.00 card worth $14.05!

Posted by:

Dan O
26 Jun 2019

First of all, if I don't recognize a phone number I don't answer the phone and wait for the answering machine to kick in. I did get a call once from my bank about fraudulent activity, so I told them I was hanging up and would call the number on the back of the card. I did, and they said the call was legit. Sadly, you can't trust anyone who calls unless you know them. And, never ask them for a call back number, if it's a scam then they'll really have you on the hook.

Posted by:

26 Jun 2019

I do not know “Who is most gullible?” but I do know that only gullible people lend credence to results obtained by an “online poll survey”.

Moreover, that “online poll survey” was commissioned by TrueCaller.com.

The developers of that nefarious application built an enormous database by collecting data from the lists of contacts saved in the devices of the gullible people that installed that application. Thus, it is almost certain that YOUR personal data (name. phone number, e-mail address and more) are included in that database even if you never installed that nefarious applications and never gave your consent to give over your personal data.

Posted by:

David Schultz
26 Jun 2019

2 days ago I got 5 or 6 calls from what the caller ID said was my phone number and with my name. Did they really expect me to answer that?

Posted by:

29 Jun 2019

@ L. Harper, this senior citizen isn't gullible.

We are both in our late 80's and have a landline. We do get calls from boiler rooms plus the income tax and Microsoft calls but nothing like what some of your commenters describe. We're Canadian and get service from Bell Canada, maybe that's why.

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