Cybersecurity Awareness: Phone Scams

In support of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the IT Division is highlighting phone scams and offering tips on how to avoid attacks. Scammers often take advantage of busy times throughout the year when people are distracted or vulnerable, such as during holidays, tax season, back-to-school, and global events like coronavirus. Every year, Americans report billions of dollars in total losses to scam callers. In addition to practicing proactive defensive security measures, education and outreach remain an integral component to avoiding and preventing phone scams. Continue reading to learn more, view examples, and recommendations.

Key Data

  • The 2021 Truecaller report indicates a 22% increase over the past year in the number of Americans who lost funds due to phone scams and 59% who received scam calls related to COVID-19. Of those who lost money to phone scams, 60% were due to calls made using automated dialing technology, i.e. robocalls. About 3 in 5 Americans reported an overall increase in spam calls and/or text messages (see SMS phishing). 

  • Illegal and unwanted calls comprise the largest source of consumer complaints according to a 2021 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report. Voice service providers continue to make advancements in analytic call blocking and labeling tools to protect consumers. Companies report few false positives and no public safety issues.

  • A survey of local consumer data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reveals the top 5 fraud categories in the San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley metro area to be imposter scams, online shopping, internet services, prizes or sweepstakes, and telephone and mobile services.  

Example 1: 

In the examples below, a scammer uses local numbers and an automated message to contact you regarding a fake expired vehicle warranty. Auto warranty scams were the top unwanted call complaint filed with the FCC in 2020. If you accidentally answer a robocall or press a button in response to a recording, simply hang up immediately. Be sure to report the message as spam and block the number.

Listen to sample audio.

Example 2:

The examples below are provided by the FCC and focus on COVID-19 robocall scams. The audio transcripts both reference coronavirus and a critical and urgent need for your attention. These scammers prey on victims during emergencies and may offer free home testing kits, fake health insurance, vaccine appointments, loan repayment offers or other financial assistance. 

Do not respond to calls from unknown numbers. The Department of Justice has a hotline for consumers who believe they have been a victim of a scam or fraud related to COVID-19. The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721. 

  • Social Security Scam: Hello this is a call from the Social Security Administration. During these difficult times of the coronavirus, we regret to inform you that we have got an order to suspend your socials immediately within 24 hours due to suspicious and fraudulent activities found on your socials. We are contacting you as this case is critical and needs your urgent attention. To get more information about this case please call immediately on our department number 888-991-2325. I repeat 888-991-2325.
    Listen to sample audio. (Source: Nomorobo)

  • Diabetic Test Kit Scam: If you are diabetic and using insulin, we can qualify you to get a free diabetic monitor and a complimentary testing kit for coronavirus. To learn more, please press 1, otherwise please press 2.
    Listen to sample audio. (Source: YouMail)

Example 3:

Tech support scams are a common scheme for criminals to gain remote access to your computer. They may call you and identify themselves as Microsoft or Apple employees and claim your computer is infected with a virus or has a technical problem only they can fix.

Keep in mind that real tech companies will not contact you to let you know there’s a problem with your computer. Real computer security warnings will not instruct you to call a phone number or purchase a product. If you are concerned about your computer security, contact [email protected]

Tips for Recognizing Phone Scammers

  • Familiar entities: Scammers often impersonate representatives of a well-known organization, e.g., IRS, Medicare, Social Security, a utility or tech company, e.g. PG&E, Microsoft, and Apple, or even nonprofits and charitable groups. 

  • Spoofed numbers: Scammers might use technology to spoof or mimic fake phone numbers appearing on your caller ID. The phone number may have a local area code or appear related to a government or work agency.

  • Critical Timeline: Scammers will indicate there is an urgent, time-sensitive problem you need to resolve or perhaps a prize or investment to claim quickly. The emphasis is on guiding you to act as fast as possible under threat or duress. 

  • Payment Method: Scammers frequently demand specific methods for payment which are difficult to reverse, such as via money order, prepaid cards, gift cards, use of a money transfer company, a bank wire transfer, or depositing a fake check.

Recommended Actions to Stay Safe

  1. Be aware of the attack methodology, remain vigilant, and report anything suspicious. Exercise caution with unexpected requests, offers, or phone calls not initiated by you. View the social engineering page for more tips on how to recognize scams. 

  2. Do not share your private login or financial information. If you are unsure, verify the request with the organization directly through the official website or phone number. 

  3. Do not grant access to your devices to an unknown caller unless you initiated the request and can verify they are a legitimate representative of your support group. 

  4. Ensure your equipment meets Berkeley Lab Minimum Security Requirements.

  5. Stay up to date with required Cyber Security Training and Secure Your Computer.

Report any suspected or known breach of personal information to [email protected] as soon as possible. For other related questions, please email [email protected] to open a ticket.

How to Block and Report Spam Calls

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