Is It Safe To Call Back a Spam Call?
In January 2023, four older adults in Florida each called back an unknown number from a missed call — and fell for an elaborate scam that cost them a total of $98,400 in cash.
In all four instances, someone impersonating the victim’s grandchild claimed to have been involved in a car crash and urgently needed money. Next, a fake attorney called to confirm the issue before an Uber driver was sent to collect the cash. But these situations were all fake [*].
While this might sound like an extreme story, millions of Americans fall for phone scams every year.
In 2022 alone, Americans lost around $39.5 billion to phone scams [*].
With organized gangs and sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) technology, fraudsters can make thousands of calls daily. Some victims miss the call but make the unfortunate decision to call back a spam number.
In this guide, we’ll explain what can happen if you call back a spam number, how to spot a scammer on the phone, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family from phone scams.
What Happens If You Call Back a Spam Number?
Spam calls are unsolicited phone calls from fraudsters, aimed to deceive people into sharing sensitive information.
Spammers use caller ID spoofing and social engineering tactics, including urgency and fear, to trick people into thinking the caller is someone they’re not — and then pressure victims to disclose personally identifiable information (PII) or send money.
The average scam call costs victims $567 [*]. But that initial blow to a victim’s bank balance may be just the beginning.
So, what happens if you call back a spam number?
Here are seven potential consequences of engaging with a scam caller (and what to do in each case):
Your identity could be stolen
Phone scammers often impersonate trusted companies and government agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If you believe the ruse, you might accidentally share your Social Security number (SSN), credit card number, or Medicare number.
For example, over 36 million Medicare robocalls were made to U.S. phone numbers in January 2023 [*].
Here’s how to protect your identity:
- Be careful what you say. Spam callers will use any information you give them to try and exploit you. Even basic details — such as your name, gender, and address — can be enough information for fraudsters to conduct scams.
- Hang up and call back using an official phone number. If you’re unsure whether or not the call is legitimate, hang up. You can call back the company or agency by finding the official phone number on its website.
- Do not call the number back. When you call back a spam number, you're playing directly into the scammer's hands. You could expose sensitive data on the call or make yourself a target for further scam attempts.
You could end up paying significantly more on your phone bill
Some spammers use “one-ring calls" to entice you to call them back. But these con artists often call from abroad or use a premium phone number.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently mandated that all U.S. phone carriers adopt STIR/SHAKEN technology [*]. This feature blocks international phone scammers from spoofing local numbers. But you should still be careful when answering calls to avoid exorbitant charges on your phone bill.
Here’s how to avoid expensive spam calls:
- Don't answer strange numbers. It’s best to ignore calls from any number you don’t recognize. Scammers calling from abroad may use reverse charges or deceitful tactics to trick you into disclosing personal information.
- Don’t call back a number if your phone rings once. Spam callers can hide international numbers with ID spoofing. These one-ring calls are bait — the fraud happens when you call back the spam number. If you must call back after a missed call, check the area code to ensure it's in the United States.
- Block outgoing international calls. A call-blocking app could save you from mistakenly calling foreign numbers. You can also contact your phone company to request a block.
💡 Related: The 10 Best Spam Call Blocker Apps of 2023 →
You’ll be targeted by even more scam calls
When you answer a spam call, the fraudster knows your number is active. As a result, scammers may target you with more calls in an effort to defraud you.
Here’s how to reduce scam calls:
- Refuse to engage with unsolicited callers. If you answer, take a guarded approach, or hang up immediately. Fraudsters will be less likely to call you back.
- Join Do Not Call lists. You can register your phone number on the National "Do Not Call" Registry for free.
- Use call-blocking features or apps. Adjusting your smartphone’s built-in settings can automatically filter out spam calls.
You could fall victim to AI voice scams
Scammers can record someone’s voice during a conversation. With AI and voice manipulation technology, crooks can use these recordings to impersonate you.
Jennifer DeStefano thought kidnappers had abducted her 15-year-old daughter when her daughter supposedly called. But before paying a $1 million ransom, the phone scam was exposed [*]. Other victims like elderly grandparents — aren't so fortunate.
Here's how to thwart AI voice scams:
- Don’t speak first. If you accept phone calls from unfamiliar numbers, let callers introduce themselves and explain why they’re calling you.
- Hang up immediately if you’re not comfortable. You don't need to reply or explain yourself. If you get a bad feeling about the caller’s behavior or reason for calling, end the call.
- Double-check claims from family members in distress. If you receive a call from a loved one urgently needing financial help, pause for thought. It's best to hang up, and then contact the person directly yourself. You should verify the story before making any rushed wire transfers.
You could lose money or access to your financial accounts
Scammers can coerce or deceive you into revealing your account login credentials. Once they gain unauthorized access to your bank accounts, they could take over your account or drain your savings.
The FBI warned all Android and iPhone owners about threat actors who can empty bank accounts in seconds [*].
Here’s how to protect your financial accounts:
- Never share sensitive account information. Official bank representatives won't ask for your PIN, one-time password, or login credentials.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). With an extra layer of security, you make it harder for someone to hack your accounts. Consider a fingerprint scan or hardware key for maximum protection.
- Use bank security features. You can set up spending limits and notifications to prevent purchases or withdrawals above a certain amount, like $100. These features will help you stop thieves in their tracks before they take everything.
💡 Related: How To Protect Your Bank Account From Identity Theft →
You could get targeted by a tech support scam
Scammers impersonate technical support representatives from well-known companies, such as Amazon or Apple, with the goal of getting remote access to your computer. In December 2022, five men were indicted on charges of defrauding 20,000 victims in a massive tech support scam that successfully operated for 10 years [*].
Here’s how to avoid tech support scams:
- Be skeptical of unsolicited callers offering technical support. If you didn’t agree to a call in advance, it’s almost certainly a scam.
- Never grant remote access to anyone. Unless you initiated contact by directly calling tech support, you should never give someone else access to your device. Be wary of applications such as TeamViewer or AnyDesk.
- Verify the legitimacy of any tech support calls. Hang up, and then go to the company’s official website to find the phone number for customer support or complaints. You can then determine if it was an honest mistake by the company — or notify them if it was a scam call.
Hackers could take over your phone number
Fraudsters can gain control of your phone number with sophisticated schemes like SIM card swapping or phishing emails. If you fall victim, criminals can intercept calls and messages and hijack your linked accounts.
Here’s how to protect your phone number:
- Be cautious when sharing personal information online. You can tighten privacy settings on apps and social media to keep your number hidden.
- Follow best practices for passwords. 65% of people reuse passwords [*]. By creating complex, unique login credentials for each of your online accounts, you can stop hackers from compromising all of your accounts at once.
- Report fraud to your service provider. If you notice a sudden signal loss or suspicious activity on your phone, call your phone company immediately. They can block your number to stop further fraudulent activity.
How To Know If You’re Dealing With a Scammer on the Phone
With caller ID spoofing, fraudsters make it look like their calls come from legitimate numbers. As the cons become harder to spot, the risk of giving up personal information or remote access has never been higher.
Here are 12 ways that you can identify a phone scam:
- The caller says, "Can you hear me?" repeatedly. Fraudsters ask this question, hoping you'll respond. If you start talking, they can record your voice and use it in impersonation calls or access your online accounts that use voice print security.
- It’s a robocall. There are legitimate purposes for robocalls, including appointment reminders, healthcare provider calls, and messages from charities. But scammers also use these recorded messages to run high-volume spam call campaigns.
- The call appears to be from your own number. Scammers can spoof your number to confuse you into answering.
- You're asked to provide personal or sensitive information. Beware of anyone who asks for your SSN or bank account information on the phone.
- The caller warns you about an issue with your bank or online account. Con artists try to make people panic with fake fraud alerts. Katie Callaway lost $4,200 after she received a Wells Fargo text message that warned her of fraudulent charges [*].
- You're threatened or pressured to act quickly. Scammers try to elicit fear so that victims will act before thinking. If someone threatens you with legal action or a potential ban from an account, it’s a scam.
- A tech support representative insists on gaining remote access to your device. Genuine tech support services do not make unsolicited calls, nor do they push to get access to your computer.
- A government agency calls with an urgent matter. Genuine representatives of government bodies, like the IRS, will not call you out of the blue. And even if that were to happen, they would never coerce you to give them remote access or disclose financial details.
- You're offered something that’s too good to be true. Scammers lure people with high-reward, low-risk opportunities. But free gifts often come with a catch. It’s best to do your own research on any new investment opportunities before getting involved.
- You're told a family member or friend is in trouble or was injured. This ploy is common in scam calls, especially when the target is vulnerable or elderly.
- The caller asks for payment through gift cards, cryptocurrency, or payment apps. Sending money via gift cards or crypto is hard to trace and almost impossible to retrieve. Beware of anyone who insists that you pay by using these methods.
- The caller claims you've won a contest that you never entered. Sweepstakes or lottery scams typically start with a claim that you won a car or vacation. All you have to do is pay a fee first, which is a huge giveaway — of a scam.
Did You Accidentally Give Info to a Phone Scammer? Do This!
If you send money or gift cards after receiving a spam call, retrieving your stolen funds could be almost impossible. Even sharing some personal details puts you at risk.
Here are eight action steps to protect yourself after any interaction with a scam caller:
- Lock or cancel your credit cards and debit cards. You can prevent fraudulent charges by using the temporary lock card feature on your mobile app. For more permanent protection, contact the bank to cancel the cards.
- Ask the bank or company to reverse the transfer. If you wired money to a scammer, there’s a small window in which you can cancel and return the money. Payment apps and gift cards are harder to recall, but a check or international transfer takes several days.
- Place a credit freeze. Contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to freeze your credit file. This measure prevents anyone from opening new accounts in your name.
- Document the fraud, and stop all contact with the scammer. Take screenshots of all communications, including emails, text messages, and social media chats. Then, break off contact and block the scammer’s number.
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can notify the FTC about the scam and share your evidence at reportfraud.ftc.gov. The FTC provides an official report to help you recover from the fraud. If you gave up personal information, you’ll also want to file an official identity theft report.
- Update your passwords to limit the damage. If your details were compromised in any kind of data breach or phone hacking, you should change all of your online account passwords.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Giving out your password to a spam caller puts you at risk, but implementing 2FA can help protect you from fraud. If imposters can’t provide the second proof factor, they can’t access your accounts.
- Use a credit monitoring provider. A reliable monitoring service will send you instant notifications if there are any changes to your credit file. Aura provides 24/7 credit monitoring and the fastest fraud alerts in the industry.
How To Stop Spam Calls From Taking Over Your Phone
Every day, the average American receives three to four spam calls [*]. For many, these unwanted calls are little more than brief interruptions to their day. But without reliable identity theft protection, a single call could have disastrous consequences for your finances and credit score.
Here are five ways to reduce spam calls:
1. Use an AI-powered spam call blocker
With artificial intelligence, call assistants in 2023 can save you time and distress. These apps screen incoming calls and text messages from unknown numbers — flagging suspicious calls and automatically stopping spam from reaching your inbox.
Aura’s Call Assistant combats phishing threats and only forwards legitimate calls to you, ensuring that you don't miss appointments, deliveries, and emergencies.
2. Use your phone’s built-in features to silence or block spam calls
Modern smartphones are designed to tackle the problem of scam callers. Here’s how you can set up call blocking on Apple and Android cell phones.
- Go to Settings > Phone.
- Scroll down and tap on Silence Unknown Callers.
- Switch on the feature to silence all future calls to your iPhone from unknown numbers. These calls will automatically go to voicemail.
- Open the Phone app.
- Select the three dots in the upper-right corner, and then tap on Settings.
- Select Caller ID & Spam (in the Assistive section).
- Toggle on Filter spam calls.
Note: These built-in features will block spam calls automatically but may also block some legitimate callers. It's good to review the call log manually and unblock any numbers from which you wish to continue receiving calls.
3. Make your phone number less accessible to scammers
Data brokers collect and sell your personal information and online browsing history to advertisers, telemarketers, and even scammers. While this dynamic allows for personalized marketing, the data-sharing model exposes you to unwanted ads, spam, and scams.
If you want to stop scammers from contacting you, you can remove yourself from data broker lists and adjust your privacy settings on social media. While this is a time-consuming process, it helps reduce your digital footprint.
Aura can save you time by contacting data brokers and people-search sites on your behalf and lodging requests to remove your information from the internet.
💡 Related: What Are "Potential Spam" Calls? (How To Block Them) →
4. Register on DNC lists
The National Do Not Call Registry was created to stop unwanted sales calls. You can register your phone number for free by going to DoNotCall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236). You’ll get an email with a confirmation link.
While the DNC list can help limit the amount of marketing calls you get, it won’t stop scammers from contacting you.
5. The nuclear option: change your phone number
Scammers are persistent. If you’ve already tried the tips above but still receive lots of spam calls, getting a new number may be the best remedy.
Ensure that you protect this new number with a stringent approach to online privacy. Keeping your number hidden on apps and social media platforms makes it less likely to end up on data broker lists or in the hands of scammers.
💡 Related: What Can Hackers Do With Your Phone Number? →
The Bottom Line: Don’t Give Phone Scammers the Time of Day
Unwanted calls have quickly become the top complaint that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) receives [*].
The good news is that spam calls aren’t a huge risk on their own — but they can lead to serious consequences if you respond to them or engage in any way. A few minutes of talking to a scammer could lead to months or years of financial hardship.
Aura offers an all-in-one solution for blocking spam, protecting your identity, and safeguarding your finances — and helps minimize the threat of scam calls and texts with a proactive suite of tools and features that includes:
- AI-powered Call Assistant. Avoid costly phone scams and harmful messages with smart spam blocking and call screening.
- #1-rated identity theft protection. Aura monitors your identity, SSN, passwords, and financial accounts for signs of fraud.
- 24/7 three-bureau credit monitoring. Aura sends rapid fraud alerts that are up to 250x faster than other digital security providers.
- Dark Web monitoring. Get peace of mind with real-time scanning, and receive instant alerts if your phone number or other personal data is found on hacker forums and marketplaces.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy for every adult member on your plan that covers eligible losses due to identity theft — such as stolen money, credit cards, and passports.
- White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists. Aura provides dedicated U.S.-based 24/7 support to help you navigate the fraud recovery process with banks, creditors, and government agencies.