This article reviews how to stop scam phone calls such as those from fake tech support companies – but it also applies to unwanted or nuisance calls such as Robocalls (autodialer and pre-recorded messages).
Customers often ask me whether a phone call they received is legitimate or a scam. They are right to be worried as scam phone calls are now being carried out on an industrial scale.
Perhaps the most common are scam phone calls offering tech support to fix your computer – the caller may claim to work for Microsoft or for your broadband provider.
A Microsoft customer survey revealed that “15% of the people polled said they had received unsolicited calls from fraudsters … 22% [of those called] fell for the scam“.
That means 3.3% of all the people they surveyed became victims…
What Is A Scam Phone Call?
An FCC report says that American consumers receive about 350,000 unwanted calls every 3 minutes.
Of those 350,000 unwanted calls, an estimated 47%, or 164,500 calls, are illegal – scams aimed at tricking the hurried, the trusting, and the vulnerable consumer.Federal Communications Commission 2019 report
In the case of scam phone calls from Microsoft (supposedly), the scammer tells you that there are problems with your computer (e.g. viruses) that they can fix.
Their aim is to make you pay them to ‘fix’ these alleged problems – they often persuade you to download a program to give them remote access to your computer, then show you Windows Event logs with lots of seemingly serious errors that need fixing.
However, even a brand new computer will soon show lots of errors in the Event Logs of Windows – these are not a problem, just a way to trick you into paying for their service.
Other types of scam call can be even more serious to your financial health – callers claiming to work for your bank may try to obtain your bank login passwords or personal information to use in identity theft, while ‘boiler room’ scams offer investment opportunities which seem too good to be true – and they are…
Note that the caller often tries to establish trust by proving that they know some personal details like your name and address to help convince you they are genuine – but they can easily obtain these, illegally or from public records.
Scam phone calls are increasingly made in huge volumes by criminal call centers, on a similar principle to spam emails – for every 1,000 people they ring, 3 or 4 people will fall for the scam.”
If Microsoft’s figure of 33 victims per 1000 calls is correct, each tech support scammer is stealing about $5,000 every 1000 calls – for a couple of weeks ‘work’.
That’s good money even in the US but, in countries like India, that can be a full year’s salary. It’s easy to see why scam phone calls are such a popular and growing crime – the returns are simply too good.
What Are The Risks?
If you pay a scammer by credit card or give them personal or bank details, you may not only lose your money but are also at risk of future fraud such as identity theft.
If you downloaded a program onto your computer to give the scammer remote access, you could also be at risk of stolen passwords or identity theft, ransomware or viruses as you may have left an open door for them to access your computer remotely in the future.
“Most who were duped suffered some kind of post-call financial loss, which Microsoft claimed averaged $875 per victim. Among the losses, people cited compromised passwords, faulty computers, identity fraud and cash pilfered from their bank accounts.”Microsoft Survey
Who Is Caught Out By Scams?
People often think it couldn’t happen to them, because they’re too smart to be taken in by this sort of fraud.
But in my experience it doesn’t really matter how smart you are – anybody can be caught out if they’re not fully aware of the risks, or if they’re just off guard when the phone rings.
I’ve seen all types of people fall victim – smart professionals who paid for what appeared to be a genuine business service, busy working moms, retired doctors, clever students – keep in mind that scam callers can be very convincing.
How To Recognize A Scam Phone Call
The main thing is to know that such types of calls exist so you can recognize them. Microsoft never make unsolicited phone calls and, to my knowledge, neither do any broadband, telephone or email providers.
Genuine companies don’t waste time ringing individual users to offer their help:
“Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer.”Microsoft Support
How To Stop Robocalls and Scam Calls on Landline
If you receive a robocall, don’t press any keys as that confirms that your number is valid, which may lead to yet more calls – just hang up.
The same applies to all other types of unwanted phone call, hang up immediately. Don’t be polite and chat with the caller in case you confirm personal information or become more susceptible to their sales pitch.
It is also possible that the more time you spend talking with them, the more likely they are to add your number to a follow up list – to call you back in future and try their pitch again…
But the best defense is to block such calls from ringing your home phone in the first place. No single solution is guaranteed to block 100% of unwanted calls but, by using several of the following methods, you should be able to reduce the numbers from a flood to an occasional drip.
Tip: the most effective single solution I have found is to use a call blocker like the CPR V5000 reviewed below.
National Do Not Call Registry
Register your home (and cell) phone numbers for free at the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry to stop legal telemarketing calls – note that it takes up to 31 days for your new registration to take effect.
Registering should stop all sales calls from reputable companies that respect the law. However, it does not block non-sales calls from organizations such as charities, political groups, debt collectors and surveys.
More importantly, it does not block calls from scammers (especially those based abroad) as they will just ignore the Registry.
Block Anonymous Calls
Note: this service is for landline phones only, not cellphones.
If you have Caller ID on your home phone, most phone carriers allow you to easily block incoming calls from anonymous callers (those who block their caller ID).
To turn anonymous call blocking On – get a dial tone and dial *77
To turn anonymous call blocking Off – get a dial tone and dial *87
While this should block some nuisance calls, it isn’t very effective at blocking scammers as they often spoof Caller ID – so it looks as if the incoming call is from a local number or a well known company or government agency.
Block a Number on Landline
Contact your home phone carrier to see if they offer any additional services. Some provide an option to block international calls or VOIP calls (Voice Over IP, calls routed via the internet, similar to Skype) that are often used by foreign scam operators.
Depending on the carrier, they may also have a keypad code solution to block a number on landline.
But there are 2 problems with blocking a specific number in this way:
- It is only of use after you have answered the phone and realized it is an unwanted call – it doesn’t stop that call in the first place.
- Although it stops that number from calling you in future, scammers typically change their numbers often – so blocking them by specific numbers is like playing whack-a-mole…
CPR V5000 Call Blocker
Unlike the previous solutions, this is a best selling automated call blocker that you simply plug in between your landline phone and the phone socket.
It gets power from your phone line so doesn’t require mains power and the manufacturer offers a 3 Year warranty – check price at Amazon.
Note: you must have the Caller ID service enabled on your phone line – the blocker will not work without it.
This blocker comes pre-loaded with 5000 known bad numbers (supplied by the FCC) so calls from those numbers are blocked and your phone doesn’t ring. These include known robocalls, scams, political calls, election calls and general nuisance calls, all pre-blocked as soon as you connect the call blocker.
However, you can also configure the V5000 to block any/all of these further categories of calls:
- Area code – to block a state, area or country code, useful if you are troubled by calls from certain locations
Many reviewers claim a reduction in unwanted calls of more than 90% from using a call blocker – and the manufacturer says they have more than 1 million customers. But it will never be possible to block all unwanted calls automatically.
For this reason, if any unwanted calls do slip through, the CPR V5000 lets you manually block up to 1500 additional numbers by pressing the big red button, or by pressing #2 on your cordless phone handset.