Types of phone based scams

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Technical Support

Fraudulent call centers/companies (or occasionally individuals), which lure in victims via cold calls, fake pop-ups, SEO (search engine optimization) poisoning etc. and try to sell them unnecessary computer related services. Usually, victims are pressured into letting an agent connect to their computer where they will be further urged into buying the service/product through fear inducing lies; for example: non-existent viruses and 'hackers', disabling computer or internet access. If the victim accepts such services, they will most likely loose a medium to large sum of money, but sometimes actual malware may be installed and used to monitor or obtain additional money from the victim in the future. While not all of these companies impersonate legitimate, well-known computer related brands like Microsoft, Apple, Dell etc. some on occasion will claim they are an official representative/agent for said business. This can also be used as a tactic to gain the victims trust.


Almost as prominent as computer related scams. Call centers similar to ones who offer technical support services (and on occasion, even the same call center), will cold call victims and impersonate the real IRS/CRA departments, usually not even as a third party call center. The impersonator will then usually exclaim to the called party that they are in debt to the IRS for various reasons. Keep in mind, the real IRS/CRA departments will never call you and require payment over the phone, nor will call you without first sending you a physical message in the mail. Most importantly, the immediate threat of getting law enforcement involved is not something these agencies will ever use as a result of not paying. Impersonators of the SSA operate very similarly, but will instead say your social security number is at risk of deactivation/deletion and must be renewed by payment, personal information (for example, your actual social security number) or both. Like the lies and fake threats used by the IRS/CRA department impersonators, with SSA scams, statements like your social security number needing to be renewed/reactivated because of upcoming expiration are completely untrue and cannot occur.

Student Loan

Credit Card Skimming

Credit card skimmers virtually only exist in the form of IVR menus, and do not usually require the intervention of a real human. Unlike physical credit card skimmers that you may come across occasionally in real life (for example, those attached to the sides of ATMs and other machines accepting card input), the danger of these are immediately noticeable and the user must knowingly and voluntarily enter in their cards details in order for the person behind the skimmer to gain their information. The IVR menu will first play a message back to the user asking for the card details, where it will then provide time for the user to enter them via sending DTMF tones or by voice recognition. To further increase the chances of gaining this data, the message which plays back initially may imitate, or even be, the audio from an official/legitimate companies IVR menu (such as various banks, like Chase, BoA, Wells Fargo etc). This type of scam is very easy to thwart, by either simply wasting time connected to the IVR menu (if it's a toll-free phone number and does not automatically hung up upon no input), or by the mass entering of invalid/fake credit card credentials.


Refund scams are more often than not paired with technical support scams, but may also be used with other non-computer related products or services. They operate by an outbound cold call to the victim, (sometimes this technique will be attempted on previous customers too) where they're told a previous purchase from or payment to the company for a specific product or service was never fulfilled/used and are being offered their money back. The agent will request access to the victims computer and instruct them to navigate to their bank providers website and sign-in. Once their account page is pulled up, the agent will use one of multiple tactics to hide the victims view of the page, where they will make it look like too much money was refunded back to the victim on accident (by editing the web page with inspect element). After which they will plead for the victim to send back the over-credited amount, increasing their chances by making the victim feel sorry for them with false claims of losing their job. As expected, if the victim agrees to refund the requested amount to the company, they will in reality be left with less money than they originally had. Unfortunately, due to the edited web-page and often first encounter of this more recent tactic, the victim may never notice (or notice much later) that any money has been deducted from their bank account balance.


Medical Insurance/Pharmacy

Medical scams encompass two major types, these include medical insurance/protection systems or, online/phone-based pharmacies. You will commonly find latter run out of call centers in India, some dedicated and others providing it as a side service alongside technical support. While medical insurance/systems are mostly exclusively run out of the U.S. or Europe.

Medical Insurance/System Medical Insurance/System scams (often bundled into one package), obtain customers by making cold calls, accepting inbound calls, or advertising their offers within lead generators. To pull in a victim, representatives will usually advertise that they are offering a "free medical alert system" for a limited time, as long as you meet certain age/health requirements. If asked for a brief description of the alert system, you are usually give the response of "its that little button you wear around your neck, and press in case of an emergency" which sounds identical to the product Life Alert, which it is not. If you proceed to accept the offer, you will eventually be informed of the additional charges, including shipping, but much more importantly, a subscription for the device to operate and contact authorities. Other items or services may be tacked on to original offer, further worsening the initial and once pleasant sounding "deal/offer", assuming they are even disclosed to the customer in the first place. As sometimes, they are forcefully and secretly tacked on, and must be cancelled afterwards to avoid additional charge.

Lead Generator

Over the phone lead generators are not exactly scams themselves, but can and will lead to them a majority of the time. The most common form of them is simple IVR menu which presents the caller with a multitude of 'special' offers/advertisements from many different companies which they can either accept or decline, the latter moving them to the next one in the list. On occasion, you may encounter a real companies product or service being advertised alongside fraudulent ones. For example, you'll find satellite/cable television, telephone and internet service providers. The exact kinds of offers that you encounter are dependent on the day of the week you call on, the time of day and your area code, so at times you may find that the currently available options consist of no fraudulent/risky offers at all.

Vehicle/Home Warranty

Travel (Airfare/Cruises)

The majority of travel and vacation scams are based on 'free' cruises and booking plane flights, but on occasion you may find other types mixed in too. While cruise based scams are most likely familiar to many people already, airfare variants will come as a new kind for most. Even though both are classified under the same category, they operate in very different ways.

Cruise scams: To start, cruise based scams are usually run by 'companies' based in America (more specifically, Florida), a person may come across a cruise scam through one or more of the following: a promotional offer received via physical mail, email or a cold call; through a lead generator (see section on Lead Generator scams), surveys or even word of mouth advertisement (which most seem to encourage themselves). The cruise will often be advertised as a 'free' "exclusive, promotional, limited time offer which you get only a single chance to claim". Whereas in reality, it actually runs all year long, and can be claimed multiple times by any person; not just those which received a call, email or piece of physical mail about it. But most importantly, it is nowhere close to being free. This 'free' label is only used as bait to lure people in, which once done, they will be finally informed of most additional charges, taxes, exceptions and caveats which should be considered. Some of these additional fees include government port tax ( for venturing outside of the starting country), fuel for the ship, parking; and sometimes food, hotel rooms (once the destination is reached) and other amenities. Whether or not tickets for an actual cruise are received by the customer depends on the distributor/reseller of the "empty or unused" cabins and whether or not such cabins even exist. Some will send victims on lengthy journeys in hopes of getting a free cruise which in reality, they will never receive (you are urged on by being instructed to attend "just one more" seminar etc). Others will simply sell tickets for an average/below average cruise at a normal or ever so slightly cheaper price, at the cost of providing advertisement for the 'company' via positive text or video based reviews, attending seminars or being subscribed to receive promotional mail.

Airfare scams: Airfare scams are not usually convoluted, advanced or clever regarding the way the actual scam is conducted, and most of the time, end up being a $100 to $200 additional fee added to the base price of a regular flight, but on occasion can end up worse. They attract victims by offering too good to be true prices, special offers, and discounts in order to lure you into buying tickets through them (a third party seller/reseller) instead of the official distributor, usually the airline company themselves. Although nothing is immediately wrong about purchasing tickets through a seller other than the official one, proceed with caution and study their website and/or terms of service and company/privacy policy very carefully. Some of these businesses will try to disguise themselves as one of many legitimate airline companies (American, Southwestern, Delta etc.) via imitation websites and social media accounts, while others will just go by their own name and directly state they are a third party. Regardless of which variant you encounter, the actual fraudulent part of their operation comes into play by one or many of the following ways; doing all "paper work" (whether it be via a computer online or physical paper) themselves, while you simply state your details over the phone to an agent, which will incur an additional charge (usually $100+). By charging you the full price of a round-trip flight, but later explaining that it's only one way, or by selling you completely invalid tickets which will be denied by the airlines database during pre-boarding ticket scanning.