Given the high volume of robocall disruptions and phone scams that occur every day, most of us know that the most logical, safe response to a call from an unfamiliar phone number generally does not involve answering our smartphone or landline with a warm greeting. Unfortunately, fraudsters realize that there are times when circumstances may compel us to accept or return a call from a phone number that we don’t recognize. By adjusting their methods, they’ve found new inroads for engaging with potential victims, sparking just enough intrigue or concern to get past the initial distrust. To stop phone scammers in their tracks, familiarize yourself with these popular tactics to steal your money or personal information, along with the area codes that may alert you to these schemes:
The one-ring scam
Relying heavily on our natural curiosity, this common scam is simple. The phone rings, but before you have a chance to answer it, the call stops. This may happen several times before you respond. If you do answer the phone, the caller drops the line. But if you call back, you’ll likely hear a recorded message, while you’re charged expensive international fees that can cost you upwards of $20 in the first minute. Meanwhile, the criminal collects all or a part of these fees, then moves on to more victims using robocall autodialers that can make millions of calls per day.
Ring and run
Although there are different variations of this con, the common thread is that the scammer attempts to create a sense of urgency. Once you pick up the phone, the caller blurts out a time-sensitive emergency, feigning to represent an agency or organization that can help get you or a friend or relative out of a bind. For instance, they may tell you that they are a bail bondsman or collection agent, or a member of law enforcement or a hospital’s staff.
Once the caller is satisfied that they have your attention, they may hang up the phone suddenly, or request that you call them back. In either case, the goal may be to get you to place a call to a premium-rate phone number, or to deceive you into giving them money directly or access to personal information, such as your bank account or credit card numbers.
Whatever their end game, these scams operate by instilling the need for immediate action. The so-called “grandparent scam” makes use of this strategy, with the caller purporting to be a grandchild who is in jail and needs money for bail fast, or in some other kind of trouble that requires assistance right away.
Watch out for calls from the Caribbean
Criminals often perpetrate the “one-ring” and “ring and run” scam using are codes originating from the Caribbean Area. This is largely because phone numbers from this region may appear to be domestic, since, like the U.S., many of these countries and territories use the country code +1. As Inc. magazine explains, the numerous new area codes that have been added in the past twenty years or so have made it easier than ever for criminals to create confusion about which phone numbers are domestic, and which aren’t.
Reader’s Digest has provided a helpful list of potentially problematic area codes. Unless you know that a call is legitimate, it’s best to avoid calls from the following international area codes with a +1-country code:
- 232: Sierra Leone
- 242: Bahamas
- 246: Barbados
- 284: British Virgin Islands
- 268: Antigua and Barbuda
- 345: Cayman Islands
- 441: Bermuda
- 473: Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
- 664: Montserrat
- 649: Turks and the Caicos Islands
- 758: Saint Lucia
- 767: Commonwealth of Dominica
- 721: Sint Maarten
- 784: Saint Vincent and Grenadines
- 809, 829 and 849 : The Dominican Republic
- 868: Trinidad and Tobago
- 876: Jamaica
- 869: Saint Kitts and Nevis
Keep your guard up with area codes 712 and 218 — or for that matter, any number you don’t recognize
Phone numbers with international area codes aren’t the only ones to regard with suspicion. The consumer advice website Clark.com points to a practice among certain rural carriers called “traffic pumping.” Using this controversial practice, certain providers in underpopulated regions charge wireless and long-distance carriers outrageously high fees for calls to local numbers. To ease the burden, providers will share these fees with their subscribers. The area codes of 712 and 218, serving Western Iowa and Northern Minnesota respectively, have become notorious for this practice. According to Clark.com, an indication that you’re about to be “traffic-pumped” is a message that the call you are trying to place is outside your plan. If this occurs, hang up before the call connects, and you won’t be billed.
Because it’s easy for criminal callers to use spoofing technology to display a fake phone number on your Caller ID, it’s generally advisable to screen any calls or texts from unknown callers. If you do get charged for a fraudulent call, it may be worthwhile to contact your carrier to try to resolve the matter. If the caller persists, file a complaint with the FCC. To minimize intrusions from scam callers, it can be helpful to use a combination of strategies, such as registering with the FTC’s Do Not Call list, using the call-blocking function on your phone, and even downloading a mobile app to filter out calls that have been previously identified as spam or fraudulent. Find more tips in our blog post “Effective Solutions to Stop Spam Calls.”