Reasons you might be on the phone with a fraudster

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Have you been getting missed calls from overseas numbers or people claiming to be from Centrelink or the Australian Taxation Office?

These are just two examples of common phone scams that have succeeded in conning many Australians into parting with their hard-earned cash.

Scams target people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels. Every year scams cost Australians millions of dollars and cause considerable non-financial harm. With banks continuously investing in security systems to thwart fraudsters, criminals are turning to the old-fashioned method of calling someone up to trick them into voluntarily handing over their personal details or even transferring cash directly into their bank account.

According to Scamwatch, phone calls are the most popular way for scammers to reach their victims. Almost 40 per cent of scams in Australia are committed over the phone, with email coming in second with 26.5 per cent, and text messaging following with 15 per cent.

Common scams
Scammers are clever and, if you don’t know what to look out for, anyone can fall victim to a scam. However, thanks to the tens of thousands of scam reports received every year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has prepared a list of common scams to be on the lookout for.

  1. dating and romance scams
  2. investment scams
  3. threat and penalty scams
  4. unexpected money scams
  5. prize and lottery scams
  6. online shopping scams
  7. job and employment scams
  8. charity scams.

“[Phone calls are] so easy, it’s very cheap and in countries where labour is cheaper, you’ve got whole call centres devoted to doing these sort of scam calls, and I think that personal touch gives them a greater likelihood of getting more victims,” ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard said. But there are a few hints that you may be on the phone with a scammer, including:

  • if the overall quality of the call is poor
  • if the caller is pressuring you into doing something immediately, such as making a payment or handing over information
  • any calls claiming to be made on behalf of government agencies asking bills to be paid in unusual ways such as prepaid gift cards
  • if the caller is using threats or inappropriate language to coerce you into cooperating
  • if the caller is directly asking for financial details such as credit card or banking details
  • be wary of people you meet on social media or online dating sites who try to quickly move you away from the site to communicate via chat or email.

Common language patterns
Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK) has been working with speech pattern analyst Dr Paul Breen as part of the Take Five campaign against financial fraud. Dr Breen listened to real-life scam phone calls and found common patterns in the language fraudsters use to try to gain people’s trust.

Here are the tricks fraudsters use to con people into handing over personal details.

1. Con artists will use snippets of information about you, gathered together from different sources, to sound like they know what they’re talking about.

2. They will create a false balance of power by using apologetic language for taking up your time to make you feel sympathetic towards them.

3. They will stay patient as they continue to build up layers of seeming authenticity until you’re convinced they’re legitimate.

4. Fraudsters may pose as someone in authority such as a fraud detection manager or a police officer investigating an ongoing crime.

5. On the whole, people claim to be cautious of trusting strangers without meeting them – one in three (38 per cent) claim to “never really trust anyone” when speaking over the phone – but the analysis suggests fraudsters are well-prepared to get this reaction. Contrary to what might be expected, fraudsters may welcome your scepticism. But they will turn it into a weakness, by acknowledging your concerns about being security conscious.

6. A sign of a con may be the caller switching tempo and increasing or decreasing the pressure by creating a false sense of urgency or using understanding language.

So why are we susceptible?

Consumer research from FFA UK found the top three factors that would make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone were “sounding like a nice person”, followed by “sounding like they know what they’re talking about” and lastly “offering to help with a problem”.

So, if you find yourself on the phone to a stranger, remember that you should never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full banking password. Listen to your instincts and do not allow yourself to be rushed or pressured into doing something you wouldn’t normally do, such as transferring money into a stranger’s bank account.

And if in doubt, just put the phone down.

Have you been receiving more and more of these calls lately? What generally tips you off to a scam?

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Total Comments: 10
  1. 0

    It is VERY simple. I absolutely will not answer any phone call that I do not recognise the number. My recorded message states this. Scammers, or these stupid robotic messages, will not leave a message. If it is someone genuine, they will leave a message. I have NEVER had a problem.
    After years of pleading, begging and threatening, I have only recently, finally got my older brother to do this also. He is old school – polite, wanting to answer all calls so that he does not keep them too long. I bought him an answer phone, and finally the penny has dropped. Now he can comfortably say ‘I don’t get any scammer calls. I wish I’d done this years ago’.

  2. 0

    Whenever the phone rings and there’s silence, I know it’s an Indian call centre auto dial which transfers the call to the human team once it detects a voice. I now use the Gruntfuttock defence; what I hear you say? After a delay, an Indian voice “How are you today?” My response “Why are you ringing me?” The reply “This call is being …..” I interrupt by asking the same question, and get this response “I’m from Telstra and we have detected that hackers have got into your computer so we are ready to help you” I then ask “Do you have my account displayed?” “Yes” is the answer so I then ask “To make sure you have my account, I’ll give you my name, please confirm it’s my account. My name is Hermann Gruntfuttock. Is that my account you’re looking at?” The answer is of course Yes, at which point I hang up. The Gruntfuttock defence works every time!

  3. 0

    We have caller ID which is very helpful. If we don’t recognise a number, we don’t answer. If it is a genuine call a message is usually left for us to call back. Since we started using this method, the number of scam calls has decreased markedly. It works for us and may be of use to others but I’m sure there are other ways equally as helpful.

  4. 0

    I have a very old landline phone no fancy caller ID or anything like that, so I answer them ….. gives me an opportunity to use language I wouldn’t normally use as I direct them where to go before I hang up.

  5. 0

    I had a call once that I had won a trip to L.A and I kept saying but I don’t want to go to L.A, and she could not believe it, I had fun with it and eventually she hung up (I knew I had not entered a competition to win that trip).
    You can also ask can I phone you back?
    And you can also check the phone number online to see who it is.

  6. 0

    I’ve had many scam calls. If they have a recording, they’ll start their speil, or recording before the tone indicates for them to start talking, so I miss some of the message.

    If one says that there’s a warrant out for my arrest, especially for an outstanding tax bill, I just ignore them. I haven’t had to pay tax for many years, so I know that there’s nothing outstanding, or due to me, as I don’t pay tax on my pension.

    I’m also a bookkeeper, so I know what state my finances are in.

  7. 0

    If I answer one of these calls, invariably they ask if they are speaking to “my name”. I respond with WHO WANTS TO KNOW? Do not say YES; scammers can record your response and use it fraudently to purchase items. Avoid answering any questions with a positive YES response. Have fun if you must, it wastes their time which is good.

    • 0

      That goes for the question “can you hear me?” also a well known opener for a scam.

      Another thing is when they have called you then ask you to confirm your details. I always tell them they called me so they already have them. When they insist, I tell them to read the details they have and I will confirm or not. They usually hang up at this point.

  8. 0

    A while ago I was receiving the Chinese scam calls. This is where they threaten you and your family in China if you don’t pay up. Clearly they are targetting Mandarin speakers since the call is all in Mandarin.

    Unfortunately these calls have begun again. Not surprising I suppose with the current stouche between China and Australia. BTW I still don’t speak Mandarin and still hang up on them.



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