6 common phone scams and how to recognize them


A recent report says that by 2019, nearly half of all cell phone calls will be scam calls. That shocking statistic comes from First Orion, a company that provides call identification and blocking solutions to cell phone carriers.

“Year after year, the scam call epidemic bombards consumers at record-breaking levels, surpassing the previous year and scammers increasingly invade our privacy at new extremes,” said Charles D. Morgan, CEO and Head Data Scientist of First Orion said in a blog post. “Recently, the FCC joined forces with several technology companies, including First Orion, to find a way to combat these calls, but we still see rampant increases.”

While many of us have learned to simply not answer our phones unless we are expecting a call from someone we know and trust, the scammers are getting so sophisticated that they are sometimes able to combat even extreme measures like these through number spoofing and other tactics.

Common cell phone scams and how to recognize them

Phone scams involving the IRS

One of the most common phone scams involves someone calling you impersonating an employee of the IRS. They’ll say you owe them money and may threaten legal action or an arrest. Don’t fall for it! 

The scammers will often use caller ID spoofing to make their number show up as “IRS,” but that’s not always the case. Hiya says these are the top area codes where tax scams appear to originate:

  • 202: Washington, D.C.
  • 206: Seattle
  • 315: Upstate New York
  • 470: Atlanta
  • 631: Central and East Long Island, NY
  • 314: St. Louis, Missouri
  • 415: San Francisco
  • 786: Miami
  • 646: New York City

The IRS will not threaten you or demand payment over the phone. It initiates most contacts through regular mail.

Hiya, a smartphone app that protects users from phone spam and scam calls, reports that IRS and tax phone scams have gone up 1218% year over year from January and February 2017 to 2018.

Phone scams involving gift cards

Gift card scam are a relatively recent development, but Team Clark hears about them almost every day. Here’s how they tend to work:

“Lots of people have told us they’ve been asked to pay with gift cards — by a caller claiming to be with the IRS, or tech support, or a so-called family member in need,” the Federal Trade Commission says on its website. “If you’ve gotten a call like this, you know that the caller will then demand the gift card numbers and PIN. And, poof, your money is gone.”

Another popular gift card scam, which we’ve also written about, involves crooks who pick up a gift card from a store, write down the account number, scratch off the strip to reveal the security code and then leave the store — without the card.


To avoid becoming a victim of these scams, never pay someone you don’t know with a gift card and always check gift cards (if you’re buying them for a different reason) to make sure they haven’t been tampered with.

Phone scams involving auto warranties

Scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer, automaker or insurer have also been known to call vehicle owners telling them that their auto warranty or insurance is about to lapse. They will soon ask the potential victim to provide some personal info so that they can “renew” the policy. In actuality, they’re getting that info with the intent to commit fraud.

If someone like this calls you and asks for any personal information, especially a Social Security number, credit card information or driver’s license number, don’t give it to them — and certainly don’t give out your banking or credit card information to any caller unless you can verify you are dealing directly with a legitimate company.

Phone scams involving Medicare or health insurance

One phone scam that targets mostly seniors involves enrollment in health insurance related to the Affordable Care Act or Medicare. While some homeowners have reported having scammers show up at their door, most of these scams operate over the phone. The caller may claim to be a Medicare representative and ask you to sign up for a new card or policy. That’s when they ask you for your Social Security number or to pay a fee for help navigating the Obamacare website.

Phone scams involving fake customer support numbers online

Fake customer service numbers are showing up in search results and on social media platforms.

Krebs on Security reports that victims are calling the bogus phone numbers to cancel Amazon Prime — or for other reasons — and the scammers are asking for credit card and bank account information.

TheDailyScam.com has a of phony customer service numbers.

See what happened when a member of Team Clark called one of the phone numbers that’s showing up in Google search results.

Phone scams involving 2-factor authentication and your online accounts

As phone scams keep evolving, criminals are beginning to realize they can exploit two-factor authentication to take control of accounts in a way no one intended.


By effecting a simple phone takeover hack, the bad guys are proving that the added layers of phone-based security we’ve come to rely on aren’t solid as they seem.

That’s because the whole system hinges on who has control of the phone to which secondary security codes are sent.

RELATED: How to make your Venmo transactions private

The New York Times reports criminals are calling up major wireless carriers and asking them to port certain people’s phone numbers to a wireless device they control.

Once that port is done, the crooks can then get access to financial accounts that use two-factor authentication via text messages — one of the most popular methods of two-factor authentication.

Upon getting that two-factor authentication text message, a crook can then reset the password on any account you have tied to that number. Then they can easily drain your money! Just another reminder to check your accounts daily to make sure nothing is amiss.

The easiest line of defense you can put between you and scam calls

If you’re looking for a way to protect yourself from scam calls that threaten you and your financial security, look no further than the free Hiya app.

Available for Android and iOS, the Hiya app blocks suspected scammers, using an algorithm that determines if there is a phone number making thousands of brief phone calls. Additionally, app users can submit a community report that warns others if a certain phone number is fraudulent.

Of course, nothing like this is 100% effective, so always be wary when you get a call from someone you don’t know and keep these common phone scams in mind.


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