How to protect your identity on the phone

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Overview

Your identity is important to your financial and personal security. You probably protect your identity over the internet by not posting your credit card details on sketchy websites, and you also protect your identity in person by destroying confidential documents and credit cards. It’s important to understand that protecting your identity over the phone is also critical to ensure your personal safety and the safety of your family. This comprehensive guide is set to outline common methods scammers and criminals use to try and gather your personal information over cell and landline phones, and what you do to avoid be a victim.

Who’s calling you?

Perhaps the easiest and most effective step to ensure your identity is safe over the phone is by first checking to make sure you recognize the number that is calling you. A dead giveaway is a number that comes through as “Restricted” or “Unknown”. Scammers use number cloaking methods to ensure that their numbers are not viewable to the person receiving the call. If you do not know the number of the person calling you, it is best to not answer and let them leave a message. If you do answer, keep in mind that regardless of what the caller on the other end says, they are still unknown, and you should proceed with caution throughout the entire call.

The comprehensive list of ways to secure your identity when using the phone

1: Never give out your social security number over the phone

– Scammers are clever. When a person calls you and states that they have an “urgent matter” that requires your social security number, and if you don’t comply there will be monetary consequences, you may not take into account that the person on the other end could be a criminal. This is why you should never provide your social security number over the phone for any reason. The IRS recently had a scam occur where scammers would pretend to be IRS agents and repeat the last four digits of the victims security number over the phone to prove they were “authentic”. How they managed to obtain the last four of your social security number is another issue, but regardless, no government organization, reputable company, or individual should have to ask you for your social security number for any reason. 

2: Use caution when repeating your phone number or full name to callers

– A common method that criminals use to get more information on a victim is to call the victim and pretend as if they called the wrong number, in an attempt to obtain your full name or full phone number. In certain situations, especially credit card fraud, the criminals attempt to gather as much info about the caller as possible. Next time a person asks you your phone number even though they called you, ask them to repeat the number they called instead, and tell them if they are correct. This is only to be used in situations where you are already weary of the caller, accidental calls are normal and should not be something you should worry about more than you need to.

3: Teach your children what to say when they answer the phone for you

– Useful if you are worried about child predators on the phone too. Have a “script” that your child should stick to when they answer the phone. It should go something like this:

  • Ask for name of caller
  • Ask for reason of call
  • Ask for phone number so parent can call back

It’s important to note that under no circumstance should your children ever have to identity who they are over the phone, or the current location of their parents. Child predators may target your child when you are out of the home, that’s why your child should never tell the caller where their parent currently is. If you child is unsure to say when a caller asks for the location of their parent, teach your child to say “My parent is busy right now, can they call you back?”. This will ensure that no info is given of the whereabouts of you, the parents of the child, or the child themselves.

4: Accents are important

– Most scam artists are located out of the United States. With that said, be cautious if you receive a phone call from someone who says they are located in the United States, but has a distinctive foreign accent. Discrimination is not necessary, just caution.

5: Government organizations never require up-front payment, or payment over the phone

– Scammers claim to work for the government all the time, but you should always remember that if the person really works for the government, they will NEVER ask for payment over the phone. Why? Because it’s insecure, could lead to theft, and in most cases the government would like you to pay via their payment processors so they have a digital record of the payment. The IRS made it clear in an announcement recently that they never ask for immediate payment. You always have a window to pay funds you owe to the government. With that said, make sure you are paying the government and not a scam website that the caller told you to go to. If you are unsure wether the website you are visiting is secure, try doing a google search for the organization you are trying to pay for first, them compare the domain names.

Last updated Sept. 6th, 2014

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  • Melissa Thornton

    I’ve also seen calls where the caller ID says my phone number that they are calling. This is a sure sign of a call you don’t want to answer. In addition, if you get a call that asks you to dial a number on your phone to opt out of future calls, always hang up. The right way to opt out is the do not call list. If they proceed to call anyways then they should be reported for violating that list.