What is Vishing? How To Identify Phone Scams (15 Examples)

Share this:

Yaniv Masjedi

Organic Growth at Aura

In this article:

    Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.

    See pricing
    Share this:

    Do You Know How To Spot Phone Scams?

    As a licensed clinical social worker, Jaime Bardacke was used to getting occasional phone calls from law enforcement about cases in which she was subpoenaed as an expert witness. 

    So, when the man on the other end of the phone claimed to be Lt. Timothy Reid and told her there was a warrant out for her arrest for failure to appear, Bardacke quickly agreed to pay the $6,000 bail in order to stay out of trouble until they figured it out [*]. 

    It was only later that she realized the entire phone call was a scam.

    Phone scams — also known as “vishing” — have skyrocketed. According to a 2022 survey, the average American receives 31 spam calls (and 20 spam texts) per month [*].

    But while some scammers use robocalls to target thousands of victims a day with the hope that some will fall into their trap, others use more sophisticated methods. 

    Modern phone scammers use human psychology to trigger their victims’ stress responses and cloud their judgment. Scammers pose as law enforcement, credit departments, and even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to scare you into giving them money or sending sensitive information. 

    In this guide, we’ll explain how modern vishing scams work, how to identify them, and the most common phone scams you need to avoid so that you and your family can stay safe. 

    What Is Vishing? 

    Vishing — which is short for “voice phishing” — is a type of social engineering attack in which scammers phone you and attempt to trick you into sharing personal information, sending them money, or giving them remote access to your computer.

    Scammers will typically call you pretending to be a company or government agency that you trust — like Amazon or the IRS. Once they have you on the phone, they try to manipulate you in a number of ways.

    The number of Americans that lost money to vishing scams
    68.4 million Americans fell victim to phone scams in 2022. Source: TrueCaller

    While most people know by now not to click on suspicious links in phishing emails or texts messages (i.e. "smishing"), they’re not always as careful over the phone. 

    Because here are the facts: the number of Americans who have fallen victim to phone scams has increased every year since 2017. In the past year alone, 68.4 million Americans lost a total of $39.5 billion to phone scams. 

    Take action: If you think you’ve given personal information to a phone scammer, your bank account, email, and identity could be at risk. Try Aura’s identity theft protection free for 14 days to secure your identity and finances against scammers.

    How Do Vishing Attacks Happen?

    Scammers target their victims with several types of vishing attacks, and new methods show up every day. 

    Some of the most common vishing techniques include:

    • Robocalls. Scammers use technology to automatically call thousands of phone numbers each day and play automated messages or use AI-powered bots to scam you. Three of five Americans who lost money through phone scams attributed it to a robocall.
    The types of robocalls received by Americans
    Scammers use robocalls to power their vishing scams. Source: TrueCaller
    • Spoofed caller ID. Scammers use technology called VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) to spoof their number on your caller ID and fool you into thinking that the call is coming from a different number.
    • Voicemail drops. Scammers use technology to leave voicemail notifications before the phone even rings.
    • Text message with a number to call. Vishing often starts with a fraudulent SMS text message that includes a callback number.
    Example of a text message leading to a vishing scam
    Vishing scammers will often send you text messages to try and get you to call them. Source: Aura team
    • Software alerts. Your computer shows a warning message with a fraudulent “tech support” number to call.
    • Impersonated calls. You get a call from a celebrity or politician, but deepfake synthetic media technology is mimicking their voice.

    💡 Related: How To Quickly Identify a Scammer on the Phone →

    The 15 Latest Phone Scams To Avoid

    1. Extended warranty scams
    2. “Your bank account has been compromised” scams
    3. Amazon fraud department phone scams
    4. Fake tech support phone scams
    5. Social Security scams
    6. Health insurance and Medicare scam calls
    7. Tax and IRS phone scams
    8. Loans, debt relief, and credit repair scam calls
    9. Workplace impersonation scams
    10. Fake prize and sweepstakes scams
    11. “One-ring” callback fraud
    12. Fake order refund cancellation scams
    13. Investment and get-rich-quick phone scams
    14. Virtual kidnapping scam calls
    15. COVID-19 phone scams

    Phone scams prey on innocent people with offers, threats, or tricks designed to collect money or personal data. 

    Here’s a closer look at the top phone scams and how to avoid them:

    1. Extended warranty scams

    Scammers leave phone messages claiming they’ve tried to reach you about an extended warranty offer for your car. Sometimes, they’ll pose as an official agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) — or even threaten legal consequences if you don’t call them back.

    Some of these offers are legitimate (though usually overpriced and ineffective). But most are from scammers that will disappear with your money, collect sensitive information to defraud you, or both.

    A visual voicemail from a scammer offering an extended vehicle warranty
    A visual voicemail from a scammer offering an extended vehicle warranty. Source: Aura Team
    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • You receive a robocall selling a warranty. It’s illegal for robocalls to sell anything unless you’ve given the company permission in writing to contact you [*].
    • The caller offers vague information about the warranty policy.
    • The caller asks for personal information and urges you to move quickly (or threatens you if you say you’re not interested).

    💡 Related: Did the DMV Text You? Here’s How To Know if It’s a Scam

    2. “Your bank account has been compromised” scams

    In this vishing scheme, you receive a call claiming that your bank account has been hacked or there are unauthorized charges. The “visher” will eventually ask you to share personal or financial information — such as your account details or Social Security number (SSN) — to “verify your identity” or help “clear the charge.”

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller asks for any personal information (other than a “yes” or “no” to confirm or deny the charge).
    • The caller is vague with details or doesn’t know basic information like the name of the bank.
    • The caller won’t let you hang up and call the official bank number.

    💡 Related: Did You Give Your SSN To Scammers? Do This Now!

    3. Amazon fraud department phone scams

    In this Amazon scam, fraudsters call or send a text message asking you to call them about an unauthorized Amazon order. They’ll eventually ask for your personal data, credit card information, or Amazon account information in order to “cancel the order.”

    Scammers use your trust in Amazon to fuel their phone phishing attacks
    Scammers use your trust in Amazon to fuel their phone phishing attacks. Source: Reddit
    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller asks for personal information. In actuality, Amazon will never call to request personal information or to offer a refund that you aren’t expecting.
    • The caller asks for information unrelated to your Amazon account, such as your bank account number.

    💡 Related: Was Your Amazon Package Stolen? Here’s What To Do

    4. Tech support phone scams

    In this phone scam, you receive a warning that claims your computer or other device has been compromised. In order to fix the issue, you need to call a tech support number. 

    But there’s a cybercriminal on the other end of the line who may charge you unnecessary fees, collect your personal data, or even install malware that gives scammers remote access to your computer.

    Fraudsters create website pop-ups that try to get you to call fake tech support companies
    Fraudsters create website pop-ups that try to get you to call fake tech support companies. Source: Reddit
    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller asks for payment through an unusual method, such as gift cards or wire transfers.
    • The caller asks you to install remote access software like TeamViewer or AnyDesk. These tools give them full access to your computer and sensitive files. 

    Only work with verified support technicians. Be extra cautious if the number you’ve called (or that has called you) isn’t listed below:

    💡 Related: The 7 Latest Geek Squad Scams (And How To Avoid Them)

    5. Social Security scams

    In this scheme, fraudsters call and pretend to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). They claim there’s an urgent issue with your Social Security number that you must resolve immediately.

    The caller may threaten to arrest you or revoke your Social Security number. But these are empty threats. Their ultimate goal is to collect your money or your personal data.

    Phone scammers will try to intimidate you into calling them. Source: Aura Team
    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • A caller claims to be from the Social Security Administration. The SSA will almost never contact someone through a phone call.
    • The caller threatens to suspend, revoke, or cancel your Social Security number. The Social Security Administration does not do this.
    Take action: If you accidentally give scammers your personal data (or its leaked in a data breach), they could take out loans in your name or empty your bank account. Try an identity theft protection service to monitor your finances and alert you to fraud.

    6. Health insurance and Medicare phone scams

    In this type of scam, you get a call from someone claiming to be from your health insurance company, Medicaid, or Medicare. The caller may say that they need information or claim there’s a problem with your data.

    Most scammers are either planning on selling your insurance details to identity thieves or plan to make fraudulent insurance claims on your behalf.

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • Someone calls claiming to be from Medicare. But Medicare will never call you to sell anything.
    • The caller claims to be helping you with your insurance, but gives vague information or doesn’t know which insurance company you use.

    Pro tip: Sign up for identity theft protection to monitor your most sensitive and valuable information. Aura constantly monitors your SSN, financial accounts, and online credentials for signs of fraud. Learn more about how Aura can keep you and your family safe.

    7. Tax and IRS scams

    This type of scam relies on a victim’s stress when dealing with taxes and the IRS. A phone scammer will call or leave a message claiming that you owe taxes. They’ll often use threats of arrest or imprisonment to get you to act quickly and pay them through wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards. 

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • Someone calls claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS almost never contacts taxpayers by phone.
    • The caller makes threats of jail or arrest. The IRS does not make threats.
    • The caller only accepts payment using a specific payment method, like a wire transfer or gift card. The IRS accepts multiple payment methods and will never request card numbers over the phone.

    💡 Related: The 13 Latest Tax Refund Scams You Need To Know

    8. Loans, debt relief, and credit repair scams

    Another common type of phishing that occurs over the phone involves debt-related offers. 

    Scammers may offer debt relief, credit repair, student loan help, no-interest credit cards, and more. Sometimes, the scammers will request an upfront fee and then disappear. Other times, they’re interested in your personal details and will use them to commit identity theft.

    Scammers will try to entice you with debt relief offers or free credit
    Scammers will try to entice you with debt relief offers or free credit. Source: Reddit
    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller makes an offer that sounds too good to be true — such as “guaranteed” credit or debt relief.
    • The caller requests detailed private information to see if you’re “eligible” for their program. 
    • You need to pay an upfront fee; and always be especially wary if you’re asked to use irreversible payment methods such as wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards.

    💡 Related: Don't Fall For These Clever Credit Repair Scams →

    9. Workplace impersonation scams

    In this scheme, you receive a call or text from someone posing as your boss — often using caller ID spoofing to make it look like the call is coming from your boss’s real number. You’re informed that your boss is in a meeting but needs you to buy something for a client immediately, and will pay you back later.

    Example of a CEO impersonation text message
    CEO impersonation scams often start as text messages. Source: Aura Team

    But of course, you’ll never see that reimbursement. This type of social engineering attack may seem like it requires extensive research on the scammer’s part — such as knowing your boss’s name and phone number — but this information can be easily found on LinkedIn or the Dark Web.

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • You are contacted at a home phone number for a “work” call. The caller will often sound different than usual and blame it on being stuck in a meeting.
    • The caller refuses to provide information for a company credit card, and demands that you use a personal card for which you will supposedly get reimbursed later.

    10. Fake prize and sweepstakes scams

    A common ruse for scammers is to claim that you’ve won a prize. Once you’re convinced that you’re a lucky winner, they’ll ask you to pay a fee to receive the money. You can tell it’s a scam because charging for a sweepstakes is against federal law — that’s why all legitimate contests say “no purchase necessary.”

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller claims you’ve won a prize or lottery that you didn’t enter or apply for.
    • You’re told you need to pay money or purchase something to receive the reward.

    In the news: A recent scam uses a “deepfake” voice imitating President Biden, claiming that the recipient has won the “American Cash Award.”

    11. “One-ring” callback fraud

    As its name suggests, the one-ring phone scam starts with a call that rings once and then hangs up. The scammer’s goal is for you to call the number back — it’ll charge as a premium or international call with fees as high as $20 per dial, plus $9 per minute.

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • You get a missed call notification, but the call only rang once or you didn’t hear it at all.
    • The phone number starts with a plus sign symbol, which means it’s an international number. For example, +(232) looks like a U.S. area code, but it actually directs to Sierra Leone.

    💡 Related: The 7 Latest Amazon Scam Calls (and How To Avoid Them)

    12. Fake order refund cancellation scams

    In this scheme, you’ll receive a message or call about an order placed under your account. But the order is false, and the scammers on the other end of the phone line will ask for personal information, credit card numbers, and more to “cancel” the charge.

    If you’re concerned about a potential charge, log into the website of your financial institution and review pending charges, or call the official number listed on the company’s website.

    Scammers use fake purchase notifications to get you to call them. Source: Reddit
    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • Instructions to cancel the order are listed prominently and request that you call a phone number.
    • When you log into your actual account, there is no information about the supposed purchase.

    💡 Related: How To Shop Online Safely (Without Getting Scammed)

    13. Investment and get-rich-quick scams

    In these scams, callers will promise huge returns on investments or business opportunities. Common scams include cryptocurrency, penny stocks, and Forex trading.

    Scammers may be after your account information, a phony “investment fee,” or they may direct you to use a platform that sends your money straight to them.

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller offers “guaranteed” returns — but all legitimate investments have risks.
    • The return on the investment sounds too good to be true, such as doubling your money in a few days or weeks. Beware of high returns in a short period of time.

    14. Virtual kidnapping scams

    In this particularly nefarious scheme, you’ll get a call from someone who claims to have kidnapped a family member and is demanding a ransom. But your loved one is safe, and the entire kidnapping is fake.

    A New York reporter sent thousands to a scammer who called him claiming to have kidnapped his mother. The scammer spoofed both his mother’s and father’s numbers, so the calls appeared to be from their phones.

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller won’t let you talk to the family member but claims that they’re in danger unless you act now.
    • The caller can’t answer questions that only a family member would know how to answer.

    15. COVID-19 phone scams

    Scammers have been using the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud victims. Typically, the message will claim that you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive. You will then be asked to buy supplies such as testing kits or masks. Or the call may pose as an official government announcement requiring you to buy supplies.

    Government agencies do make legitimate calls about COVID-19, but they will never ask you to purchase anything over the phone. The scammer is after your identity or your money.

    How to tell if the caller is a scammer:
    • The caller uses a sense of urgency as well as scare tactics to get you to act.
    • The caller demands that you only use their “approved supplier” for purchases.
    • The caller asks for detailed personal information, like your date of birth or Social Security number.
    Take action: Protect yourself from the risks of identity theft and fraud with Aura’s $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance. Try Aura free for 14 days to see if it’s right for you.

    How To Identify a Vishing Scam

    Vishing calls prey on our emotions — which makes it easy to miss red flags. But most vishing scams offer some tell-tale signs; and learning how to identify them will allow you to protect yourself.

    If you spot any of these, you’re dealing with a scam:
    • It’s a robocall selling something, which violates federal law.
    • The caller threatens jail time, fines, or deportation if you don’t act now.
    • The caller requests payment in gift cards.
    • The caller refuses to let you hang up or call an official number.
    Be cautious if you recognize any of these warning signs:
    • The caller asks for personal information, especially your Social Security number.
    • The caller uses a sense of urgency.
    • The caller claims to be from a government agency.
    • The caller offers you something that sounds too good to be true.
    • The caller only accepts unusual payment methods.
    • The call is flagged as potential spam on your phone.

    What Should You Do if You’re Targeted by a Vishing Attack?

    It can be scary realizing that you’ve been targeted by a vishing attack. But thankfully, most attacks don’t pose much of a risk as long as you don’t act on them.

    If you suspect you’re being targeted by phone scams, here’s how to protect yourself:

    • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers.
    • Don’t return missed calls from unknown numbers.
    • Don’t interact with suspicious calls or texts — if you do, it proves to the scammer that your number is active.
    • Don’t share authentication codes (2FA, MFA, etc).
    • Don’t blindly trust your caller ID.
    • Don’t click on links, call numbers, or reply to suspicious texts.

    If you’re not sure if a call is a scam, hang up and verify elsewhere. For example, if a caller claims to be from your bank, hang up and call the number on your bank’s website.

    How To Block Scam Calls, Robocalls, and Vishing Attacks

    If you get a scam call, consider blocking and reporting it. This will prevent future calls from the number and will help protect other potential victims.

    How to block scam calls on your mobile phone:
    • On iPhone: Open the phone app, select “Recents,” tap the “info” icon next to the number, and select “Block this Caller” at the bottom.
    • On Android: Open the phone app, go to recent history, tap the number, and select “Block/report spam.”
    How to block scam calls through your service provider:
    • Download your provider’s spam blocker app, available in Android and iPhone app stores. They have paid plans, but the free versions are fine for most users.
    • If you get a scam text, forward the message, along with the number it was from, to 7726 (SPAM). This will share the message with your service provider’s spam team.
    How to block scam calls through a government agency:
    • Sign up on the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s free and prevents legitimate telemarketing companies from contacting you.
    • Report unwanted calls at DoNotCall.gov.
    • Report information about scams at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

    There are also third-party apps claiming call blocking functionality — but beware, as research a few years ago revealed that many of these apps collected user data without permission [*]. Some may also block personal calls by mistake.

    The best solution is to remove your number from data brokers and telemarketers. Aura can help block your data and help reduce the number of spam calls you get.

    Aura data broker removal service
    Aura can remove your information from data brokers who sell it to marketers and scammers.

    Did You Give Money or Information to a Phone Scam? Do This

    If you’ve given money or personal information to a scammer, you could be at risk of identity theft, cybercrime, and other types of fraud. It’s important to take action immediately.

    If you sent money to a scammer, your next steps depend on the method you used:

    • Debit or credit card: Call the institution to cancel the transaction, void the card, and get a new one.
    • Apps like Venmo or CashApp: If your account is associated with a separate card, follow the steps above for a credit card. If you paid with an in-app balance, call the app company and ask for them to reverse the payment.
    • Gift card: Call the issuing company, explain about the fraud, and ask for a refund. The sooner you do this, the better your chances of recovering your money.
    • Wire transfer: Report fraud to the company and ask for the wire to be reversed. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to do this, but you should ask.
    • MoneyGram: 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947)
    • Western Union: 1-800-325-6000

    If you’ve shared login information with a scammer, change your password immediately — both on the compromised site and on any others where you use the same password. Set up two-factor authentication (2FA).

    If you’ve given a scammer personal information like your Social Security number, take steps to protect your identity. Set up a fraud alert and consider a credit monitoring service like Aura.

    If you’ve given a scammer remote access to your computer, delete the remote access software, back up your data, and install an antivirus to clean up any malware.

    The Bottom Line: Don’t Fall for Vishing Villains

    Vishing has become one of the most common types of scams. And it’s getting harder every day to tell a scam phone call from a legitimate one. Take action now to protect yourself from scammers and vishing attacks by learning their tactics and signing up for Aura’s all-in-one identity theft and digital security solution.

    Protect yourself and your family from scammers. Try Aura FREE for 14 days →

    Related Articles

    Text message scams
    Fraud

    10 Text Message Scams You Didn't Know About (Until Now)

    Scammers are everywhere — even in your text message inbox. Here are the 10 latest text message scams to be aware of (and how to avoid them).

    Read More
    July 18, 2022
    Illustration showing a warning symbol on top of a phone
    Internet Security

    How To Know if Your Phone Is Hacked (and What To Do)

    Scammers know your phone is a goldmine of sensitive accounts and personal information. Here’s how to know if your phone is hacked and what to do about it.

    Read More
    October 7, 2022

    Try Aura—14 Days Free

    Start your free trial today**

    This is some text inside of a div block.

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers