The holiday season, with all of its shopping specials, is often seen as a time when scams run rampant. Fraudsters like to take advantage of consumers' willingness to spend money, and this year they have even more opportunities to do so.
With the ongoing Covid crisis and the global supply chain issues causing product shortages, these scammers are left with a lot to their advantage.
"Scammers are very sophisticated social engineers and will use relevant context to tug at the answering party's heart strings," says Clayton LiaBraaten, senior strategic advisor at Truecaller, a caller ID and spam blocking app.
According to Truecaller, scams currently gaining traction include those involving giving to charity and vacation fraud, which both touch on how consumers may be spending money this year. "During the holiday season, consumer attitudes range from exceptionally generous to very vulnerable during the stresses of holiday planning, travel and social gatherings," LiaBraaten says.
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Spam texts are on the rise
In addition to fraud robocalling, this year spam texts are on the rise. Consumers are receiving texts that look like a UPS package tracking alert or a customer service inquiry.
According to Truecaller's 2021 U.S. Spam and Scam Report, the average number of spam texts a person receives per month is 16.9, up from 14.7 in 2020, 10.6 in 2019 and 8.5 in 2018. And in the last year alone, nearly 60 million Americans (23%), a record-high, lost money to phone scams. Each scam resulted in an average loss of $500, totaling about $30 billion overall.
Scammers are disguising themselves as all types of entities, including customer service personnel, department stores, big-name enterprises like Apple or Amazon or major phone carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T. Consumers need to be on the lookout as a scam could come from any area.
How to tell if an unknown call or text is legit
First off, always think twice before picking up any call or responding to any text from an unidentified number or unknown area code.
For phone calls, see if the caller left a voicemail. This may help you quickly answer if it was someone you know calling you. In any case, you'll want to confirm the number belongs to a legitimate business or person, LiaBraaten suggests. You can confirm the number via the Truecaller website or on the associated business' website.
In the case of questionable texts from customer service or texts with package shipping trackers, don't click on the embedded links. LiaBraaten recommends that consumers take a screenshot for reporting purposes and forward a copy of the message to phone number 7726. "You should then report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov," he adds.
And if you think you've fallen victim to a scam, you can get help by contacting your state's Consumer Protection Office. Just make sure you don't delete your call log or the spam text as you may need this for evidence.
How to be proactive about protecting yourself
You don't have to wait for something bad to happen in order to protect yourself from phone fraud in general.
Below are tips, including some from LiaBraaten, to proactively avoid spam texts and phone scams this holiday season:
- Contact your carrier about their tools to mitigate spam: All phone carriers should have implemented STIR/SHAKEN, which is a framework of protocols and procedures that the FCC created to combat robocallers and scams.
- Sign up for the FTC's 'Do Not Call' list: This is where you can report unwanted calls and opt out of receiving telemarketing calls.
- Be vigilant: Download free caller ID and spam blocking apps like Truecaller or Whoscall, both of which are available on Apple and Android devices. With an app, you can identify inbound calls and texts with names, businesses or spam indicators.
- Consider credit monitoring and identity theft protection services: Get alerts of potential fraud on your credit report, like new accounts opened in your name, plus dark web scanning for signs of your personal information being misused. Services like IdentityForce®, PrivacyGuard™ and Experian IdentityWorks℠ offer everything from three-bureau credit monitoring, to dark web surveillance and identity insurance.
- Know that not all robocalls are fraudulent: Caller ID and spam blocking apps can protect you from fraudsters, but they also ensure that legitimate calls and messages get through. These can include messages from healthcare providers, pharmacies, school districts, travel and hospitality and financial services, LiaBraaten notes.
While it's certainly easy to get caught up in the holiday excitement, it's important to be aware of unknown calls and texts that are on the rise. With the tips above, you can avoid putting your personal information at risk this holiday season.