Expert tips: How to spot a scam caller

Mar 24, 2021
Thousands of Aussies fall victim to scam calls every year. Source: Getty

Common sense would tell you that if you think you’re receiving a scam call, hang up. But how do you know if it’s a scam call?

Scammers are experts at luring unsuspecting victims and forcing them into situations where they end up handing over financial details or giving the scammer access to their computer. Telstra is now blocking about 1.5 million suspected scam calls a week, and about 6.5 million every month around Australia. But despite these safety measures, more than 100,000 Australians reported phone scams in 2020, with the amount lost on phone scams alone last year totalling more than $48 million. Sadly, these stats are showing no signs of slowing down.

Your best weapon in the ongoing fight against scammers is your own scepticism and caution. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here, Darren Pauli, Telstra spokesperson from the Security Special Projects team, has shared his top five ways to spot a scam call, to help keep yourself safe from fraudsters.

1. The fake company call

Do you sometimes get calls coming in on your mobile phone that look like they’re from a legitimate business or the Australian Taxation Office or another government department? Don’t be fooled, this is a tactic known as ‘spoofing’ and is used by some scammers to lure you into a false sense of security. If you’re not expecting a call from the organisation trying to reach you, our advice is to let it ring out. If they really need to speak to you, they’ll find another way. If you’re concerned that you might be getting caught in a con using the details of a business you already know and use, just hang up and then call them – on a phone number that you can confirm independently – for extra security.

2. Piling on the pressure

Is the caller pressuring you and making it seem like the matter is urgent? Creating a sense of urgency is a sign the call could be a scam. Some scammers try to trick you into thinking that if you don’t hand over financial information or pay an ‘outstanding debt’ then something terrible will happen, like the matter being referred to the police, for example. The other popular scam to look out for is if a caller says that your computer has a virus or is infecting other computers. Be very suspicious of calls of this nature. Hang up, or ask them for their details and say you will call them back. If it’s a scam, chances are they’ll either put more pressure on you or hang up. You should never give unsolicited callers remote access to your computer.

3. Time of day

Take note of the time of day. Is it a reasonable time for a trusted organisation to be calling you? We know that scammers sometimes try to impersonate Telstra. As a reminder, if Telstra is legitimately calling you, they will only call between 9am–8pm Monday to Friday, and 10am–3pm Saturday wherever you are based, and not on a Sunday. The exception to this is if you have an unpaid account or a customer-initiated inquiry with respect to an order, fault or complaint – if so, someone from Telstra may call you outside of these hours. We will also never ask for control of your computer in an unsolicited call either.

4. Unknown numbers

Is an unknown number or trusted brand trying to call you repeatedly? This is a hallmark of a scam call. If you don’t know the number, letting it go to voicemail is an option. If it’s legitimate, they’ll leave a message. If you can’t screen your calls, be wary of calls from numbers you don’t recognise or weren’t expecting.

5. Promises of prizes or money

Some scammers try to lure people with the promise of a financial gain. The golden rule is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone is calling you about an opportunity or about winning a prize (especially one you don’t remember entering!), it’s probably a scam.

Remember, if you think you’re receiving a scam call, just hang up. If you’re not sure about whether you’re speaking to a real business or a scammer, take their details and say you’ll call them back once you’ve verified their details at your end. Whatever you do, don’t provide personal information or bank account information to anyone who you weren’t expecting a call from or don’t know – regardless of who they say they are! A healthy dose of scepticism might just save you from a scam call.

For more advice on financial scams, check out our article: Email scammer steals 102yo’s aged care home bond: How to prevent it happening to you.

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