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Beware! Popular Phone and Smartphone Scams And How To Defend Yourself

Popular Smartphone Scams

It’s that time of year. The winter holiday season is prime time for criminals and scammers. In fact, it is estimated that fraud attempts increase upwards of 30% during holiday shopping season. There are multiple different techniques and we covered a few of the more popular smartphone scams last year too. You can find our two part series here:

Now, let’s dig into some scams we are seeing in 2018 including some smartphone scams you’ll want to avoid.

Verify Information Smartphone Scams

Criminals and Identity Thieves know that your personal information is valuable. A criminal can use it to open up fraudulent credit cards, empty your bank accounts, impersonate you or they can even steal it and sell it on the dark web for a quick profit.

With this in mind, criminals are always looking for new ways to get ahold of your data.

This popular phone scam begins with a criminal impersonating a representative at a company you probably already do business with or subscribe to. Many times, criminals will impersonate your insurance provider (Blue Cross Blue Shield is very popular).

The criminal calls you and informs you that they are making a routine call to update and verify information on your account . . . sounds innocent enough . . . but don’t fall for it!

Some ways you can defend yourself:

  • Most of the time these big companies automate this process through pre-recorded messages. If you get a call from a real human being asking to verify your information – this is your first sign of fraud. Your best bet is to get off the phone and call the company direct. Confirm that they are the ones actually trying to update your info that way.
  • Don’t fall for threats or bullying! Often, when you resist these criminals they will begin threatening you and try to intimidate you into giving the info over. “You can lose your insurance” “You will face fines” If these kind of threats and bullying techniques are being used, you’re almost certainly being scammed.

The Tech Virus/Issue Scams

This scam has been around for a while but it tends to pick up traction during the holiday season.

You get a call from a tech company of sorts letting you know about some issue with your equipment or software. The criminal on the phone may direct you to download a ‘patch’ or the solution to your problem. In reality, the criminal just got you to download and open a file with a virus attached. You weren’t infected before but your equipment is now.

The criminal, still impersonating a tech employee or customer service rep, now explains that they can fix the problem for a fee.

The most popular version of this is a Microsoft scam where criminals call you to inform you that your computer is infected (wouldn’t that be some awesome customer service!). Once they get you to your computer they either have you change settings that will allow them to wreak havoc on your comp and steal data from you, or they prompt you to download a file/visit an infected website.

Once you are infected they extort you to get the outcome they desire.

At the end of the day, there are very few companies who are going to call you and tell you about a virus or an issue on your computer or smart device. If you get a call like this . . . disregard. If you want to make sure you don’t have a virus on your computer, contact your IT support staff instead.

Text Message Phishing or SMShing Smartphone Scams

With smart phones at our fingertips most hours of the day, criminals have turned their focus to these devices as a great way to steal information and cause trouble.

These text message phishing scams and SMS phishing (SMShing) smartphone scams use the same techniques you’ll see in an email phishing scam. They will send you messages via text designed to get you to click links, download programs/apps and they try to trick you into handing over personal information.

There are some techniques you can use to discover and avoid these scams:

  • If you don’t know the person texting you or don’t recognize the number, don’t click links in their text messages.
  • Your bank and other financial institutions aren’t going to text you to verify password info – if you do get a text from someone claiming to be from your bank etc. go direct to the website and handle things that way.

Fake or Look-alike Apps

A big new scam on the market, fake applications are designed by criminals to look like real applications you’d download and use on your smartphone. These applications are designed with malicious hidden code designed to steal your personal information, access your contacts, send spam messages from your phone to your network and even track your location via GPS tracking.

These bad applications are more common on Android devices because the application marketplace is a bit easier for criminals to navigate but that does not mean that you don’t need to be on the look out if you are an iPhone user.

  • Make sure you only download applications from trusted web stores and application stores.
  • Take a look at the developers of the app and do some research. Make sure they are reputable and trustworthy.
  • Read through the terms and conditions of applications before you download. Be sure you know what permissions you are giving developers and programmers when it comes to the data on your phone and usage.

These scams are some of the more popular ones in the market but there are many more including popup smartphone scams, IRS scams, Utility scams and the ‘yes’ scam.

The key to defending yourself is educating yourself and others on these criminal tactics as well as the techniques used to identify and outsmart them.