A phone scam, also known as phone fraud, is when a stranger calls you in an attempt to get money or personal information from you by creating a fake scenario and lying about their real identity and intentions.
Sometimes phone scammers can be immediately identified, but other times the story they create is convincing enough that it takes asking them several smart follow-up questions to call their bluff and determine they aren’t the person who they claim to be.
If you or a loved one has ever gotten a phone call saying you won a free vacation (but you didn’t recently enter a drawing) or you won a lottery (but you never bought a ticket), there’s a high probability that you were on the phone with a scammer. Phone scammers generally create an exciting, but false, scenario where they pretend that there’s a big prize they want to give you – all you need to do is pay a nominal “collection fee” or tax on that prize first. In reality, there is no free vacation and there are no lottery winnings. The magnificent prizes never existed. Once you give them your personal information or credit card information, you’ll never hear from them again – until they attempt to steal your identity or max out your bank accounts.
Another way many people fall victim to phone scammers is through fear. Instead of creating a fun, exciting story like winning the lottery, some phone scammers will pretend you are unaware of a potentially serious situation, and the only way to prevent catastrophe is if you give them money or confirm your personal information. One common fear-based scenario phone scammers will use is telling you that your computer has been hacked by a malicious person or virus. The caller might claim to be from a legitimate company, like Google or Microsoft, and they might tell you that the only way for them to help remove this potentially catastrophic vulnerability is if you can immediately confirm your identity by giving them personal information, like confirming your credit card number or social security number. Again, the threatening situation was entirely fabricated by the phone scammer – they have no way of knowing if your computer was hacked, but they prey on people who don’t have enough knowledge of home security systems to call their bluff.