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How Can You Tell If A Phone Call Is A Scam?

How can you tell if a phone call is a scam?

Carriers have rolled out some new tools to help warn people against scammers; you may see a warning like “scam likely” on your phone screen when it rings, but they aren’t perfect. There are a few other things you can look for to tip you off that an incoming call probably isn’t worth your time.

According to Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a phone screening and blocking service, check if the call comes from an area code the phone company has not allocated. “Those area codes are 100% guaranteed to be a scammer. Like area code 300. There’s not a 300, so any calls coming in will be a scam,” Quilici said.

Any time the second and third digits of an area code are the same, it’s designated an “easily recognizable code,” or ERC, by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator. Those are set aside for particular use, like 411, for example, or left unallocated to any specific region like 200, 300, and 400.

Watch for calls from the 202 area code for Washington, D.C. It’s not because there are more scammers in D.C.; scammers like to spoof the 202 area code to make it seem like they’re calling from government agencies, like the IRS or Health and Human Services, for things like Medicare.

“The other place, though, is a substantial portion of the 800 number calls are a scam,” Quilici said. “It’s for a couple of reasons. One is there’s a lot of emptiness in the 800 space, like many numbers that no one is assigned, and it’s hard to know to block an 877 number. The second is scammers are spoofing a lot of 800 numbers still.”

Another common tactic scammers use is “neighbor spoofing,” where they imitate not just your area code but also the first three numbers of your phone number. That makes it look like the call is coming from somewhere local to try and trick you into answering.

One other scammer tactic you may see is three rings and then nothing. Quilici explained that some robocalling software used by bad actors rings three times and then hangs up to avoid going to voicemail and leaving an audio trace.

When in doubt, let the call go to voicemail, Quilici said. You can call back if the unknown number is a legitimate phone call. If it’s someone claiming to be from your bank or credit card company, make sure to call the number on the back of your card, not necessarily the number you received the call from.

To be extra safe, dial the number on your utility bill, bank statement, health insurance card, or whatever the official source may be instead of relying on the callback number left by an unidentified caller.