The most dangerous piece of software installed on any computer is the browser, as it is the key target of the vast majority of online attacks. In the same way, the phone quickly is becoming one of the more dangerous devices you can own.
Phone fraud scams, whether they target businesses or individual users, have become highly sophisticated, scarily effective, and perhaps most concerning of all, quite difficult to defend against. People often are less suspicious of phone calls than they are of emails, URLs, or other data they find online. They have been trained for more than a decade to be wary of dodgy looking Web sites or emails and there are many layers of defense set up to help them avoid malicious content.
But the phone channel is an entirely different story. While there are often visual or contextual clues that help users identify online threats, the same typically isn’t true for phone threats. In fact, the opposite is often the case, with phone scammers using caller ID spoofing, voice modulation software. and other tools to make themselves look as authentic as possible in the victim’s eyes.
The most pernicious of these scams right now is the IRS tax scam, which usually involves a fraudster calling a victim and informing him that he owes back taxes and is about to be arrested. The victim eventually is offered the chance to pay the money he supposedly owes, usually through some cash transfer or electronic payment system. The IRS, Better Business Bureau, and other agencies have been warning consumers and businesses about these scams for years now, but they’re still surprisingly effective. The BBB, in a year-end report released Tuesday, said that the tax scam is far and away the most prevalent of all the phone scams it tracked in 2015.
Tax scams represented 24 percent of all of the scam complaints the bureau received this year, with debt collection scams coming in a distant second at 8.3 percent.
“Scammers come directly to you. Your best bet to avoid being scammed is to stop engaging with the scammers. Hang up the phone, delete the email or shut the door,” said Warren Clark, president of Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York.
The data is pulled from the BBB Scam Tracker tool, which the bureau launched earlier this year. The tool allows users to report scams and see what problems other users are reporting. Data is broken down by geographic location as well as by date and type of scam.
The fraudsters who run the IRS scams and similar ones rely on the ability to establish a relationship with the victim and then scare him into compliance. The best defense is to hang up on the caller and if you’re in doubt, call the legitimate number for the IRS and check on your tax status.
Image from Flickr stream of Steve Pomeroy.