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Did You Answer a Spam Call? Here’s What Could Happen
When Bob Meckley answered his landline, the last thing he expected to hear was that his son was in jail. But just seconds after the frantic phone call, Bob received a second call — this time from someone claiming to be an attorney from the public defender’s office [*].
In order to keep his son out of jail, Bob was told to provide a credit card number to cover the bail. It was only when he finally got in touch with his son that Bob discovered the truth. The whole thing was a scam.
Bob’s story might sound unbelievable, but phone scams like these are hitting Americans hard. In 2022 alone [*]:
Americans lost an estimated $39.5 billion to phone scams — and the trend is growing.
Unwanted calls — including illegal and spoofed robocalls — continue to be the top consumer complaint that the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) receives [*].
In this guide, we’ll explain what can happen if you answer a spam call, how to tell if you’re dealing with a fraudster, and what to do to keep your identity and finances safe from phone scammers.
What Happens If You Answer a Spam or Robocall?
Spam calls are unwanted calls designed to trick recipients into giving up money or sensitive information.
Fraudsters may pose as telemarketers, representatives from government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), your bank, or even a health insurance company. In other cases, scammers use “robocalls” to target millions of victims with pre-recorded messages.
Unfortunately, the rate of phone scams has exploded over the past few years.
The massive volume of spam calls is part of a scammer’s strategy. Spam callers make tens of thousands of calls a day, hoping that a small percentage of people will answer them and engage in conversation. The longer they can keep the person on the line, the more likely they’ll be able to extract valuable information from their unwitting targets.
So what can happen if you answer a scam or spam call?
1. You could become the victim of identity theft
Phone scammers are notorious for impersonating government agencies and companies that you trust. To put you on edge, they’ll tell you an account was hacked, or you’re under investigation.
Most times, their explanations are scary enough to convince you to share your Social Security number (SSN), Medicare number, or credit card details. Once you give up your data, you’re at serious risk of identity theft.
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2. Your phone bill could go through the roof
Receiving an influx of incoming calls is disruptive, but it’s also expensive. Some carrier plans charge by the minute for all calls — even calls that you receive. Over time, your phone bill skyrockets.
Fraudsters have also been known to “cram” phone bills, adding unauthorized third-party charges to your bill [*]. Small charges for things like “voicemail,” “service fees,” or “other fees” may go unnoticed — but the FTC sent nearly $5 million in refunds to victims of “cramming” last year alone [*].
3. You could lose money
When scammers get you on the phone, they try their hardest to obtain your bank account passcodes, passwords, account numbers, or even answers to your security questions (like your mother’s maiden name). If you accidentally reveal that information, hackers can drain your account.
Many phone scams may also pressure you into sending money to the scammers or buying gift cards and reading out the numbers on the backs of the cards. If you do this, the money is gone almost instantly.
💡 Related: What To Do If You've Been Scammed Over the Phone →
4. You could get targeted by a tech support scam
Another way scammers have found success is by pretending to be technicians from well-known computer companies — like Apple, Microsoft, or the Best Buy Geek Squad. They tell you there’s an issue with your computer and that they need remote access to repair it [*]. At this point, the scammer may:
- Perform what looks like a diagnostic test but is actually malware installation.
- Force you to pay them for their “work” and ask you to log in to your bank account to make a direct transfer.
- Tell you they need to be paid for the fix in Amazon gift cards, and steal your login credentials.
💡 Related: What Are Tech Support Scams (and How To Avoid Them) →
5. Hackers can break into your online accounts
Some spam callers use a different phishing strategy to gain access to people’s Amazon or other online accounts.
They tell victims that there was an order placed for an expensive item like a phone or TV. Afraid of being liable for that purchase, the victims share their account information with a “customer representative.” The scammer then uses the login information to make a series of purchases, some totaling over $20,000 [*].
💡 Related: What To Do If You’ve Been Phished: 7 Next Steps →
6. You’ll be targeted by even more scammers
Answering just one spam call is a signal to scammers that you are willing to pick up the phone. So they’ll keep calling you, sometimes from different phone numbers, trying to get you to answer again. They’ll try different schemes, too, as they think you might be an easy target. You can avoid this situation by blocking calls from unknown numbers.
💡 Related: What To Do If a Scammer Has Your Phone Number →
7. Scammers could record (and use) your voice
Some robocall scams are simply designed to get you to say certain phrases like “yes” or “stop.” While you might think you’re stopping the spammer, in reality, they’re recording your voice and can use it to break into your bank account, change backup phone numbers or email addresses, or scam your closest friends and family members.
The bottom line: In most cases, simply answering a spam or robocall won’t put you at serious risk. As a rule of thumb, never provide information, money, or access to anyone who calls you. If in doubt, always hang up and contact the company or agency directly using the contact information provided on its website.
How To Tell If You’re Dealing With a Phone Scam
Many phone scams can be easy to identify. However, scams are getting more sophisticated, making it harder to tell if you’re dealing with a scammer on the phone.
Even worse, fraudsters use caller ID spoofing to make it look like they’re calling you from a local or official phone number. Rather than trust your phone’s caller ID, you need to learn how to spot common warning signs indicating that you’re dealing with a scammer.
Here are some of the biggest red flags to be aware of:
- “Can you hear me?” Fraudsters ask this question, hoping you’ll respond with “yes.” If you do, they can use your voice profile to hack into your accounts and services.
- It’s a robocall. If you hear a pre-recorded message when you pick up your cell phone, it’s highly likely that you’re being targeted in a scam. But be careful not to write off every robocall. Some have legitimate purposes, such as appointment reminders, healthcare provider calls, messages from charities, and debt collection calls.
- The call appears to be from your own number. Scammers spoof calls to confuse you. You wouldn’t be placing calls to your own number, so don’t pick up.
- You’re asked to provide personal or sensitive information. This is probably the strongest telltale sign of a scam. Fraudsters can use your data to log in to online banking portals, make unsanctioned purchases, or sell it on the Dark Web. Legitimate customer representatives from banks, government agencies, and loyalty programs should have your information on file and won’t ask for confidential data over the phone.
- You’re told there’s an issue with an unknown bank or other account. Banks send emails and text messages if unauthorized charges are made, and will never ask you to share your login credentials or full account numbers over the phone.
- The caller claims to be from a government agency or tech support company. Scammers disguise themselves as representatives or agents to get you to act quickly. If they start asking you for account numbers, your SSN, your address, or any other sensitive information, hang up.
- You’re threatened or pressured to act quickly. Many unsolicited calls come with urgent requests. Fraudsters want you to be frightened enough to take action and comply with their instructions.
- You’re offered a too-good-to-be-true offer. It’s probably just that. Scammers use sweepstakes, freebies, or heavy discounts to hook you in, only to rip you off.
- The caller asks for payment (especially via gift cards, cryptocurrency, or payment apps). Your family, friends, or bankers will not call you asking for money — especially in the form of gift cards. Gift cards are a favorite form of payment for scammers because they are largely untraceable.
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What To Do If You Answer a Spam Call
Even if you’re being extra diligent, mistakes happen. Here’s what to do if you unintentionally answer a spam call:
- Hang up right away. If you think scammers are targeting you, hang up before they can record your voice or get any information. As a best practice, don’t answer unknown numbers.
- Don’t respond — even by pressing a number or saying “yes.” Abiding by these simple commands shows spammers that you’re more likely to respond to their ploys. They’ll continue pestering you in hopes that one day you’ll fall for their hoax.
- Never give out personal information. Refrain from sharing any data. Even telling a scammer where you live or disclosing your email address can help them find other pieces of your identity on social media or from lists on the Dark Web.
- Ask for a reference number and tell them you’ll call them back. Jot the number down so you can add it to your FTC case file. Noting the original number from which the scammers called you, and any other numbers that they give you, can help the FTC track them down.
- Report the call to the FTC. The FTC encourages anyone who has been the subject of a spam or robocall to report it online or call 1-877-382-4357. Be ready to provide timing, context, and phone number details.
- Block the number. Once scammers get a hold of you, they’ll continue calling. Blocking their numbers helps avoid scenarios in which you accidentally answer again.
- Monitor your credit and identity for signs of fraud. A scam call can be a gateway to identity theft. If you’re being targeted by scam calls, you should consider protecting your identity and finances with identity theft protection and credit monitoring.
Should You Call Back a Spam Number?
Never. In many cases, these calls are “one-ring” scams designed to charge you sky-high fees or get you on the phone with a fraudster.
Even if you aren’t sure if the call was spam, it’s best to leave it alone and block the number. To confirm you’re dealing with a scammer, avoid using “scammer phone number lookup” services, and instead just search for the phone number via Google. You should get the answer you need without clicking on links to any sites.
Did You Accidentally Give a Phone Scammer Information? Do This
If you’ve given a phone scammer your sensitive information, responded to a robocall, or sent money or gift cards, you need to act quickly to protect your accounts and finances.
Here’s what to do:
- Secure your online accounts. Update your passwords to ensure each one is strong, complex, and unique. Whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) to enhance your cybersecurity.
- Freeze your credit. Call or go online to request a freeze at all three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This prevents scammers from opening new accounts or taking out loans in your name.
- Try to get your money back. Work with your bank, credit card issuer, or Identity Guard’s Fraud Resolution Specialists to understand and execute the necessary steps for recovering your losses.
- Report the fraud to the FTC and any impacted companies. Report your case to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and explain what happened to any bank or organization involved. The more detailed information you can provide, the higher the chances are of retrieving your money.
- Sign up for identity theft protection. It’s tough for anyone to track every single one of their accounts and make sure their personal information is safeguarded. Identity Guard does the work for you with award-winning identity theft protection, credit monitoring, and $1 million coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.
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How To Stop Spam Calls From Taking Over Your Phone
Phone scams and spam have reached epic proportions in the past few years — so much so that the FCC recently mandated that U.S. carriers adopt Stir/Shaken technology to block international phone scammers from spoofing phone numbers with local area codes [*].
Unfortunately, many Americans are still being bombarded by spam calls all day long.
Here’s what you can do to reduce the amount of spam calls that you receive:
1. Use spam call-blocking tools from your carrier or third parties
2. Enable features on your phone that silence or block spam calls
On an iPhone, users can block and silence phone numbers they’ve never been in contact with (and don’t have saved in their contacts lists). Go to Settings → Phone → and then toggle on “Silence Unknown Callers.”
Android phones have a similar feature. Open the Phone app → tap the three dots → Settings → tap Caller ID & Spam protection in the Assistive section → “Filter spam calls.”
3. Make your phone number less accessible to scammers
The FTC urges anyone who has received consistent spam calls to add their phone number to the National Do Not Call lists. It’s illegal for most companies to call you if your number is on these lists.
You can add your number to the Do Not Call Registry online and file spam telemarketer call complaints through DoNotCall.gov.
Unfortunately, this will only limit the amount of telemarketing calls you receive, as scammers don’t follow these rules.
If no other options are working, you may need to choose the most nuclear option: changing your phone number.
The Bottom Line: Hang Up on Phone Scammers
Phone scams are persistent and pervasive. And while they don’t present huge risks on their own, they can lead to serious consequences if you’re not careful.
The best way to dodge the negative impacts of spam calls is to block them. But accidents happen. If you give up any information, you need to be prepared to handle the fallout.
Identity Guard offers the best solution to keep your personal information and devices safe.
With award-winning identity and credit monitoring tools, you can feel confident about keeping scam callers at bay. And if the worst should happen, Identity Guard covers you with a $1 million insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft, as well as U.S.-based 24/7 Fraud Resolution Specialists prepared to help you navigate next steps.