Spam and Scam Calls to Your Cell Phone

On this Tech Tuesday, Roland Carter talks with John Maher about spam and scam calls to your cell phone. He explains how scammers use calls to get sensitive information about victims, and then, he talks about ways to protect yourself.

Portsmouth Computer Group · Spam & Scam Calls to Your Cell Phone

John Maher: Welcome to Tech Tuesday brought to you by PCG, a managed services and security provider in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I’m John Maher. With me today from PCG is Roland Carter. Welcome Roland.

Roland Carter: Hi, John. Good to talk to you.

What Is Spam in Relation to Cell Phone Calls?

John: You too. So Roland today, we’re talking about spam or scam calls specifically to your cell phone. I’ve heard of spam in terms of email. It’s those unwanted emails that you get that you didn’t ask for. And maybe they’re even trying to sort of scam you and make you click on a link that’s going to download a virus to your computer or something like that. But what is spam as it relates to a cell phone call?

Roland: Yeah. So spam with a cell phone call is typically when a scammer is trying to get you to do the same thing, except they can’t have you click on something. So what information can you provide to them? And it’s usually something like, Hey, I’m calling from the IRS to tell you that you owe back taxes and the IRS doesn’t call you for that. But the person that’s on the phone is going to try and ask you for a social security number, your date of birth, anything that might help them get into a bank account or some of your online banking or credit cards, things like that.

They’re really trying to find ways to capture some money from some of your accounts. And so they’re really scamming you out of that stuff and trying to move it down the road somehow. So they might pretend to be the IRS, they might call pretending to be Microsoft and saying, Hey, we noticed a problem with your computer. And they’re now trying to see if they can remote on your computer, have you download some software and all of a sudden it’s a paid service. And this is how they’re collecting that cash from you.

What Are Spam/Scam Callers Trying to Get?

John: Right. Absolutely. What is it that the caller wants ultimately? What are they trying to get out of it?

Roland: Ultimately, they’re hoping to get you to give them a credit card number. If they can get that, they’re going to start getting some money from you. I’ve heard of people getting scammed out of Venmo, even. They find your cell phone number. They give you a call. They’re able to capture some information and all of a sudden they’re in your Venmo account. It’s easy to pull money out of that or send it to someone else. So ultimately it’s really focused on “give me some money”.

Do Spammers/Scammers Prey on Certain People?

John: Right. Absolutely. Do they prey on specific people? Like I know that I live in a house with my mother and father-in-law and they’re older and they got preyed on like this. In fact, they deal with a scam like the one that you mentioned with someone calling and saying they were from Microsoft. I don’t know if they said they were from Microsoft, but they definitely called and talked to my father-in-law and said, “oh, there’s a problem on your computer and I need you to log onto your computer.” And sure enough, like you said, he ended up giving them a credit card number and they charged him a couple hundred dollars to fix his computer that wasn’t really fixed, that sort of thing. Do they prey on older people and people like that, who might be more susceptible to something like that?

Roland: Yeah, definitely. So if people are a little bit older, those that aren’t so tech savvy, they might have a computer. They use it for maybe browsing Facebook or connecting to their accounts to pay bills, things like that.

But you generally would like to hope that people are good. If someone’s calling you to say something’s wrong, or talk to you about a problem, you’re hoping that you’re actually getting to resolve it. But in most cases you really don’t receive phone calls about these things. So, it’s important to try to find ways to protect yourself.

Microsoft isn’t going to call you to say, there’s a problem with your computer, the IRS isn’t going to call you. You’re probably really not going to get a call from your bank, unless they’re just calling to say, “Hey, we’ve noticed some fraud charges.” And if you’ve fallen victim to the scam, maybe you will get a call from the bank. So maybe pick that call up. But it’s definitely a certain subset of people that they’re trying to get to do this, but they call everyone. I get phone calls all the time. John, I’m sure you get some phone calls also.

Caller ID on Scam/Spam Calls

John: Absolutely. In fact, when a lot of those types of calls come, I see that the caller ID will just say like a town name. It’ll say Springfield, Massachusetts, or something like that. And almost always when the caller ID just has a town name with a state, it’s one of these things.

Roland: Yes. Some of them are starting to come up labeled as spam. The cell phone companies have determined that this phone number is spam or this group of phone numbers are scam calls. So they’re starting to actually say, “Hey, this is spam as the caller ID.” But we’re not quite there with figuring out all of them. So there are things we need to work on or help ourselves stay safe.

Why Are People Getting So Many Scam/Spam Calls?

John: Right. Why am I getting so many calls like that though? It just seems like every single day I’m getting calls like this. Is it getting worse?

Roland: It’s definitely getting worse. I think the pandemic had quite a bit to do with the frequency that we’re receiving calls. We started getting more calls, at least my house and on my cell phone as the pandemic was kind of ramping up. Maybe not in the first month or so, but it was just a little while after that when they realized so many people were working from home and were probably more apt to pick up their phones, that those really started coming through more.

What Can People Do About Spam/Scam Calls?

John: And is there anything that I can do about it? I know that like, I’ve put my phone on the do not call list, but that doesn’t really seem to help all that much if at all. Is there anything else that can be done?

Roland: So the do not call list is really for legitimate telemarketers. They’re actually reviewing that list and saying, “Okay, we’re not going to call John today.” But outside of that, there are some applications that you can download for your Android or your iPhone. One in particular is called Hiya. As an example, this application will install to your phone. You kind of tell it what you want it to do.

There’s certain options you can select. You can choose a very secure option where the application is basically going to block any phone call coming into your phone unless they are in your contacts list. And what will happen is the caller will basically get a voicemail kind of greeting saying, “Hey, you’ve been blocked. Please leave your name and information.” And then that gets passed on to you as the cell phone owner. And you can determine if you want to allow the call to come in, if you just want it to go to actual voicemail.

So there’s some decent protection with that, just in terms of weeding out the calls that you don’t want and hopefully making you feel a little bit more comfortable actually answering the phone.

Using an App to Reduce Spam Without Missing Important Calls

John: As you said,a lot of us are working from home and we might get calls from coworkers or our boss or something like that. Won’t I maybe miss some important calls if I install an app like that on my phone?

Roland: So the hope with an app like this is that you actually do have an updated contacts list. The important people in your life or the doctor’s office, or anyone else you most likely have that in your contacts anyway. So anything outside of that, maybe you do want to have some scrutiny to, if they’re trying to call you, they can leave that message for the service and pass it over to you. So you can now make a determination.

And depending on the application you get, it will do that in real time. So the call will come in, the answering service will come on first and pass that over to you. And right there on the phone, you can hit a button to say, yep, pass it through or block it or have it just go right to voicemail.

John: That kind of sounds like the old collect call thing that we used to do, where you could yeah, call somebody collect, you would have the operator come on and say, “Hey, you’ve got a collect call from so and so. Do you want to accept that?” And you say yes. And then it connects to you. It’s sort of similar to that.

Roland: Absolutely. It’s quite a bit like that. I know I used to use that service to call home when I was in high school. You do the really quick, hi mom, come pick me up. That’s the greeting.

John: So you could avoid having to get any charges on the phone that way.

Roland: Exactly.

John: Yeah. That’s the way to game the system.

Roland: Yep.

What Should People Do About Spam/Scam Calls?

John: Right, right. What about education just for people, I mean, obviously that’s great if you do download an app like Hiya. Make sure you try to put all of the people that you know that might call you, your work friends and things like that in your phone so that their calls just go straight through to you. But in the event that you don’t have that person in your call list, they might get a little greeting and then have to get passed through to you. But it’s probably only once in a while that that might happen, that you might not have somebody in your contact list. So that seems okay.

But as far as education on the spam or scam sort of issues, what can be done to teach people how to handle these sort of scammer calls? And what should people do, should they just hang up? And then if it’s somebody pretending to be their bank, hang up and then look up the bank’s phone number and call the bank and say, “Hey, I just got this call. Was this you?” Is that the kind of thing that people should do?

Roland: Yeah. There’s a couple of different ways to go about this. I know in the business we’re in we’re focused on keeping our clients safe. If we have any question about something we’ll usually say, “Okay, yep. Tell me what’s going on, but I’m going to give you a call back.” And then, we verify the number we actually have on file to ensure that it’s really our client saying that they need assistance.

And you could do the same thing. If they’re not in your contact list and you’re receiving a call about something, you can go ahead and say, “Hey, I’m in the middle of something, let me give you a call back.” Take down the number in case it is legitimate, but look at who it is. Look up whoever the organization is, do a quick Google search and call the main number and say what you’re trying to accomplish.

And they might even be knowledgeable enough to say, “Oh yeah, we’ve been having some problems with people pretending to be us” and offer you some solutions there. And in the case that you don’t have that kind of availability, just ask questions. If someone’s calling you about something, ask the questions that you think are pertinent. Don’t just immediately hand over your information, really get down into information that you think only you would know that maybe that bank would also have. If they’re asking you for your full social security number, that’s probably a red flag right there, because they should have your social security number on file and should really only ask you to verify the last four and they should have a lot of your information already on file that they can help provide to you to make you feel safer about it.

Contact PCG Today

John: Right. Absolutely. All right. Well, that’s really great advice. Roland, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Roland: Awesome. Thanks, John.

John: And for more information, you can visit the PCG website at, or called (603) 431-4121.