IT Insight: spam and your phone

We usually think of spam when it comes to an email, those pesky unwanted emails that spread viruses to your computer or ask for your credit card information by scammers. But what about cell phone call spam? Typically, the caller is impersonating an IRS representative, collection agent, Microsoft, or some service provider you don’t even remember hiring! They look for your identifying information such as your social security number, date of birth, address or any other identifier that allows them to access your financial information.

Once they find a way to capture this information, they can easily infiltrate your accounts. They might call pretending to be Microsoft noticing a problem with your computer. They will try to gain access to your computer and often ask you to download software as a paid service to remedy your problem, and just like that, they have your credit card information, and there they are! With this information, they can often access your Venmo, PayPal, and other accounts. They will try to use a money transfer app and even give you a “refund” that you deserve. If you’re not tech-savvy, you can easily fall prey.

Although some calls are immediately identified as “Spam” on your phone, we will often answer a call that appears to be from our hometown or elsewhere where we commonly call. Caller ID spoofing technology allows scammers to trick caller ID by displaying false information. They realized that many people no longer answer calls from phone numbers with unknown area codes, which display no caller ID or “unknown” information on their caller ID. By spoofing local phone numbers or information in caller ID devices, the scammer bets that their calls will appear familiar enough for you to answer. Some may spoof “Call from NH” or a phone number that is only a few digits away from your own phone number. Scammers who use identity theft technology use a wide range of scams designed to steal money or personal information that is constantly changing. It is important to be wary of unsolicited calls from unknown callers, even if their caller ID information appears local.

So what can you do against unwanted calls?

The “Do Not Call” list is really for legitimate telemarketers and is quite effective against them. When it comes to spam/scam calls, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have their own versions. You should also activate your service provider’s free protection available. These offer free services that monitor network activity and crowdsource reports to block suspected fraudulent calls.

There are also apps you can download for your Android or iPhone. One is called Hiya. Hiya is a spam call alert, blocker, fraud detection and phone number lookup in one. This app will install on your phone. You decide what you want it to do. You can select some options. You can choose a very secure option that allows the app to block any incoming phone call to your phone unless the calling number is in your contact list. The caller will receive a voicemail type greeting saying, “You have been blocked. Please leave your name and information.” This is then passed on to you as the owner of the cell phone. Then you determine whether you want to allow the call to come in or just want it to go to your voicemail. It allows the receiver more control and comfort to answer their phone. Other similar versions are RoboKiller, Truecaller and YouMail, with different variations. YouMail replaces your phone’s existing messaging service when a scam call comes in and tries to trick known call bots into removing you from their lists by sounding the beep of a dead line.

We now know that the phone is no longer a reliable pipeline. Even with new FCC regulations, robocalls will still be a huge problem and criminals will always find a new way to scam. It’s just another layer of security that we all need. Now is the time to plan how you will react and block the next time your phone rings!

JoAnn Hodgdon is vice president and co-founder of Portsmouth Computer Group (PCGiT) with her husband David. PCG provides its customers with comprehensive managed IT services, business continuity, security, cloud computing and virtual CIO services. You can reach her at [email protected] or www.pcgit.com.

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