How Can You Tell If a Scammer Is Calling You?
The day after Lisa’s husband passed away in early 2023, she started receiving calls claiming to be from the funeral home handling his cremation — requesting thousands of dollars in deposits [*]. Although Lisa realized she was dealing with a phone scammer, not everyone is as discerning.
Americans were bombarded with more than 50 billion spam and scam phone calls last year alone — with losses of almost $40 billion.
If you’re being targeted by non-stop phone scams, you probably want to know who’s calling you — and how to stop them. While many people turn to phone number lookup services, they’re not your only (or best) option.
In this guide, we’ll explain why you should avoid phone number search websites, how to determine if a scammer is calling you, and what to do if you accidentally answer or give up information to a spam caller.
Are “Reverse Phone Lookup Services” Legitimate?
Reverse phone lookup services — also sometimes known as “people search” websites — promise to give you detailed reports on who owns the phone numbers that call you. Some popular services include Spokeo, Truthfinder, Cocofinder, and BeenVerified.
But while these websites use public records to put together a basic background check on the phone number (such as the owner’s name, location, and even criminal records), the truth is that they’re rarely the best option for stopping spam and scam calls.
Here’s why you should avoid most phone number lookup tools.
Most lookup services cost money without providing any real value
While many services claim they offer “free reverse phone number lookups,” that’s not always the case. You often have to pay for a full report to find out who owns the number that called you.
Scammers use “spoofed” phone numbers to hide their identities
Scammers use Voice-over-IP (VoiP) technology to trick your caller ID into showing that they’re calling from local area codes or legitimate organizations, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A reverse phone lookup tool isn’t able to identify unlisted or spoofed numbers, so you won’t have any luck finding them.
Some services sell your personal data to telemarketers or scammers
In almost all cases, you’ll need to create an account with a service to look up a phone number (or even view the service’s pricing plans). But providing these lookup sites with your contact information — even just your name and phone number — could mean your data ends up in the hands of telemarketers or scammers who will attempt to scam you again.
You could lose some of your online privacy
Once you give your personal information to a reverse phone number lookup website, you can expect that information to be added to public databases, where it will appear online. Not only can scammers find your information more easily — so can other people.
The information isn’t guaranteed to be correct
Reverse phone number lookup services promise vast troves of information — ranging from the name and occupation of the phone number’s owner to their criminal history. In reality, there’s no guarantee that the information you receive will be accurate. For example, many services only look for landline numbers or may show multiple names associated with the same phone number.
There’s not much you can do with this information
Knowing a scammer called you (or the name under which the number is registered) doesn’t prevent the person from calling again or targeting you with other scams. Many spammers also operate out of foreign countries, such as India, which makes prosecuting or shutting them down almost impossible.
How To Tell If a Phone Call Is Coming From a Scammer
- Screen incoming calls with an AI-powered Call Assistant
- Check the number for warning signs of a scam
- Search the phone number on Google
- See if the phone number is connected to a social media profile
- Silence unknown callers on your smartphone
- Listen for the telltale signs of common phone scams
- Use your phone carrier’s spam blocker apps
Instead of wasting your time and money on a phone number lookup service, follow these steps to determine if you’re being targeted by phone scammers (so you can avoid their scams).
1. Screen incoming calls with an AI-powered Call Assistant
Aura uses artificial intelligence (AI) to protect your phone from spam and scam calls. Unlike a phone number lookup service that you can only use after the fact, Aura works in the moment to block known scammers, screen legitimate-looking incoming calls, and even prevent spam texts or phishing attempts from crowding your inbox.
Here’s how Aura’s AI-powered Call Assistant works:
- Checks incoming calls against known spam lists. Aura checks the phone numbers of incoming calls against the most up-to-date spam lists, and blocks known spammers.
- Answers and screens unknown calls on your behalf. If a call isn’t from a known spammer or one of your contacts, Aura will answer on your behalf to ask who it is and why they’re calling. If Aura detects any spam language, it will automatically forward callers to voicemail or give you the option to hang up on them.
- Blocks text messages containing scam language or dangerous links. Aura can also scan all incoming text messages for scams and dangerous links — and automatically sends them to your junk folder.
2. Check the number for warning signs of a scam
If an incoming call is from a scammer, you’ll most likely notice some red flags right away. Here’s a quick checklist to run through before you decide whether or not to answer a call:
- Is it from an international area code? Beware of any international caller — especially if it’s an international area code that looks like a local phone number.
- Do the phone number and caller ID name match? If your caller ID says the name of a large company or financial institution but the number is local, international, or otherwise suspicious, it could be a scam. Most major companies will use a well-publicized 1-800 number to call you.
- Is the call claiming to be from a government agency? The IRS or FBI won’t call you unannounced. If you receive an unexpected incoming call and your caller ID displays a government agency’s name, don’t answer.
- Is your Caller ID displaying a “scam likely” or similar label? Phone carriers typically use these labels when the incoming phone number is unlisted or found in a database of known scam phone numbers.
3. Search the phone number on Google
If you want to know whether a missed call came from a spam number, you might find the answer through a simple Google search.
Simply entering the phone number into your preferred search engine can often tell you if it's a scammer. Otherwise, you can search the number across specific sites where people talk about scams.
For example, you can enter into your browser, site:Reddit.com “[phone number] + scam” to see if anyone on Reddit has been contacted by this number and has exposed it as a scam. However, remember that using a reverse number lookup service (such as Intelius or Instant Checkmate) usually isn’t the best idea.
4. See if the phone number is connected to a social media account
For personal phone numbers, try checking social media to see if it’s a contact or someone you know. Some of the social media sites that allow you to search by phone number include LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
5. Silence unknown callers on your smartphone
If you’re consistently getting lots of spam calls, you should consider using your phone’s “silence unknown callers” setting.
With this feature activated, any caller not in your contacts list will automatically be forwarded to voicemail. You’ll still see the number in your missed call log in case it’s a legitimate caller — such as a delivery driver or appointment reminder.
How to silence unknown callers on iPhone:
- Go to Settings, and then scroll down and select Phone.
- Scroll down, and select Silence Unknown Callers.
- Tap on the toggle to turn on the setting.
How to silence unknown callers on Android:
- Go to Settings, and then scroll down and select Phone.
- Tap on the three dots at the top of the screen; then select Settings from the dropdown menu.
- Scroll down and select Block Numbers, and then tap on the toggle to turn on the setting.
6. Listen for telltale signs of common phone scams
If you answer a phone call from an unknown number, listen for the warning signs indicating that you’re dealing with a scammer. For example:
- The caller claims to be from a government agency. If the caller ID shows the name of a government agency, it’s most likely a spammer spoofing the number.
- The caller asks you to download software. A phone scammer might ask you to download software in an attempt to install malware or gain remote access to your device.
- You are asked to verify personal information. A legitimate caller will never ask you to verify sensitive information, such as your Social Security number (SSN), over the phone.
- The caller is aggressive or threatening. If you don’t comply with the caller's requests and they threaten you or become aggressive, it’s probably a spammer trying to scare you into giving up your personal information.
💡 Related: How To Identify a Scammer on the Phone →
7. Use your phone carrier’s spam blocker apps
Most cell phone carriers offer a free mobile app that provides additional spam-blocking protection. If an incoming caller’s phone number is found in a database of known scam numbers, the caller ID name will show a label like “Spam Likely” or “Potential Spam.”
Your mobile phone service provider may also offer a paid version of the app with more spam-block features — such as blocking by spam category and spam number lookup tools.
Here are some of the most common spam-blocking apps:
What To Do If You Think a Spammer Is Calling
Never answer the phone if you suspect that a scammer is calling you. While answering a spam call on its own isn’t dangerous, it tells the spammer that your number is active. Instead, block the spam number and turn on your phone’s spam-blocking feature if you’re not already using it.
Did You Accidentally Answer a Scam Call? Do This!
If you accidentally answer a spam call, you don’t need to panic. In most cases, simply answering a spam number won’t put you at risk. However, picking up the call shows scammers that you’re a potential target, which could lead to even more spam calls.
Here’s what you should do if you unknowingly answer a spam phone call:
- Wait until the other person speaks (and don’t respond with “yes”). If you answer a call from an unknown phone number, don’t say anything until the other person speaks. If there’s a pause before someone speaks, it’s likely a robocall. If someone asks, “Can you hear me?” hang up right away. Scammers may try to trick you into speaking first or saying “yes” and then using your recorded voice to access online accounts, such as your bank.
- Verify their identity before providing personal information. Phone scammers often impersonate legitimate businesses or government agencies to get your information. Before you provide any personal information, ask for the caller’s name and extension, hang up, and then call the company or agency back by using its official phone number.
- Don’t call back one-ring phone calls. Many fraudsters use one-ring phone scams in order to get you to call the spam number back and start a conversation. If an unknown caller hangs up before you can answer, don’t call it back.
- Freeze your credit with all three bureaus. If you accidentally engage with the scammer and provide any personal information, it’s important to act quickly. Start by freezing your credit report with each of the three main bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) so that no one can open new accounts in your name by using your credit score.
- Report the scam number to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you’ve added your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry and continue to get spam calls, you can report unwanted calls to the FTC [*]. This adds the spam number to their database and ensures that you won’t receive more calls from that number.
- File an official identity theft report (if you’ve disclosed personal information). If you give a spammer any personal information, you should file an official identity theft report with the FTC by visiting IdentityTheft.gov. The FTC will provide a personalized recovery plan to help you secure accounts that might have been compromised.
- Contact your bank’s fraud department. If scammers get access to your bank account information, they could drain your savings or open new credit cards in your name. Contact your bank’s fraud department and close your compromised accounts, or ask about other potential security features that can protect your money.
- Consider signing up for an identity theft and scam protection provider. Using an identity theft protection service can help you avoid getting spam calls in the first place. You can also get SSN monitoring and receive fraud alerts if your sensitive information is exposed or used fraudulently.
The Bottom Line: Scammers Are Getting Smarter – Aura Can Help
Phone scammers are targeting more people in increasingly sophisticated ways. While it can be tempting to answer the phone and ask the spammer to stop calling, it’s always better to protect yourself instead of engaging with fraudsters.
Aura’s AI-powered spam and scam call blocker can limit the number of spam calls and text messages that you receive. With Aura, you also get award-winning identity theft protection, phone number lookup services, antivirus software, a virtual private network (VPN) and password manager, Safe Browsing tools, and more.