Know How to Spot a Phone Scam to Feel Safe & Call-Confident

Vikki BournerWritten by Vikki Bourner, on 23 Feb, 2024

Trying to spot a phone scam or vishing as it’s otherwise known, can be hard, especially when you’re in the thick of a call. These criminals are clever. They know exactly what they’re doing. They know what to say and what buttons to push in order to separate you from your money or personal data. But, saying that, it can’t hurt to learn exactly how they operate to at least give yourself a fighting chance. After all, forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.

So without further ado, here’s what you need to know in order to try and spot a phone scam.

See below for how to spot a phone scammer.

Should I answer an unknown number?

The short answer is no! If you see you’re being called by an unknown, withheld or even international number, there is no need to answer. The rule of thumb is that if it’s important, they will leave you a message.

When scammers call they are often checking to confirm if a number is in live; they have systems that call hundreds of numbers at once. If you answer, they will see your number is in active use. This is why we also don’t recommend that you actively end a call either, as this will make it clear that someone will answer – eventually.

…But the number looks local

Yeah, they often do. It’s easy for criminals to spoof your local telephone area code in order to convince you that it’s a trustworthy number. Because local is good, right? Scammers know that you believe this, so if you don’t personally know the number, don’t answer.

Remember they will leave a message if it’s important. If you answer accidentally, we suggest you hang up immediately.

The pause before they speak

This is a common technique. They call, you answer and then there is silence. You say hello? a few times and then you finally hear a voice. This is a huge red flag. What is happening here is that a clever piece of tech is calling hundreds of people (as mentioned before) and as soon as someone picks up, the system finds an available agent and puts you through. Very scammy indeed.

Awkward pauses aren’t natural.

Making you feel…

As humans, we react emotionally to certain situations, and scammers know this. They use it to their advantage and make you feel all sorts, to catch you off-guard in order to steal from you. So when you’re chatting away, if the person on the other end makes you feel any of the below, then you may be on the phone with a scammer.

A sense of urgency or panic

  • You need to pay money, now
  • You need to fix something, immediately
  • You need to take action, ASAP

A sense of fear

  • If you don’t your account will close
  • If you don’t you will owe more
  • If you don’t you may lose something valuable to you

A sense of violation

  • Your account has been compromised
  • Your computer has been given a virus
  • Your identity has been stolen

Never ever…

No matter who calls you on the phone you should never ever give out sensitive information that could expose you to fraud and theft. Genuine companies who make a call directly to you will never ever ask for:

  • Bank details
  • Your date of birth
  • Postal address
  • Passwords/passcodes
  • Sensitive & personal details

And whilst we’re on the never ever’s, here are some things you should never ever do if asked to directly, especially over the phone:

  • Move money between accounts (e.g. to keep it safe)
  • Pay out money in order to receive money
  • Download software that may give them access to your computer
  • Accept technical support that you didn’s know you needed
  • Make payments with gift cards

The best attitude to take is that if someone is calling you, they need to prove their identity to you, not you to them.

Don’t give out your private information to callers.

Scammers love to pretend

To make themselves seem legitimate, scammers will pretend to be just about anyone that they think you will trust. If you get a call and someone claims to be from the list below, they will be more than happy to give you a number so you can call them back, or give you a chance to do your due diligence – if they are genuine that is.

  • From your bank
  • From your insurance company
  • From the HMRC
  • From the DVLA
  • From the police
  • From your utility company
  • From Amazon

These are the most common right now, but there are many more. So be vigilant and never be in a hurry to confirm your identity or give out your details.

The science of conversation

If you understand the English language and are fluent then you know how a conversation flows. It feels natural. This is where some scammers and indeed bots can give themselves away. Here are conversation flaws you can look out for to spot a phone scam.

  • Long, uncomfortable silences from the caller (as they’re reading scripts or unsure what to say)
  • Talking over you (feeling frustrated if it’s not going their way)
  • Ending sentences with alright & OK (leading you so you feel you can’t say no)
  • Deferring answers to your questions until later
  • Using coercive language such as, we can, let’s not, you’ll be fine & let us, for example
  • Using threatening language such as, if you don’t, you will never & we won’t for example

If a conversation seems weird, strained, uncomfortable or even jarring, then it could be a scam. Try asking a them simple question. It’s hard to not answer a question when asked, so if the caller avoids, defers or can’t answer your question then it would be wise to end the call.

If a conversation feels disjointed, it may be a scam attempt.]

Trying to remember

We appreciate that there is a lot to look out for in order to spot a phone scam, but even just taking a little bit of this on board is going to help you to stay vigilant. Your best course of action is to never answer a number you don’t recognise. As we’ve covered before, if it’s important, they will leave a message for you. However, if you do answer a call from a number you don’t know and you’re lured into a conversation, try and pluck up the confidence to ask more about them, who they are, where they are from, what their intentions are and proof of identity. This isn’t rude, it’s being cautious. And any genuine company will go out of its way to put your mind at ease.

Of course, it’s natural to pick a phone up when it rings, and to be cautious of every call demands more thought and energy. With our lives being so busy, it’s easy to get caught out in the moment. That’s one reason why we created Phonely. It offers a combination of automated and human protection from telephone scams and fraud. Take a look at Phonely’s CallGuard, it might just be what you and your loved ones need to feel confidently safe.

Keep Your Confidence With Phonely

Don't let scammers & fraudsters take away your confidence and independence.

Sign up for our newsletter and get up-to-date information on scams, fraud and how to protect yourself from phone crime.

Logo 1
Logo 2
Logo 2
Logo 2
Logo 2
Logo 2