How to keep safe from phone scams
Internet & Mobile Security Blog | MATE | 12 December 2022
Chances are your smartphone is a portal into your online life𑁋a convenient safe of personal information, photos, passwords and even credit card details. But with so much sensitive information contained on these handy devices, it’s no wonder that fraudsters are setting their sights on our mobile phones in an attempt to scam us out of hard-earned cash and personal details. In this blog, we’ll show you how to keep your digital guard up. From identifying scam phone calls to avoiding online traps, here we take you through the ins and outs of online security.
What is a phone scam?
A phone scam is any fraudulent activity that takes place over the phone, usually in an attempt to steal money or personal information from unknowing people on the other end of the line. Importantly, there’s no one demographic that is more likely to fall victim to a phone scam than others𑁋scammers target Australians of all ages, backgrounds and income brackets.
With scammers constantly taking advantage of new apps, services and technologies, knowing how to protect yourself online is a must.
Types of mobile phone scams
SMS phishing scams
An SMS phishing scam, also known as smishing, is where a scammer attempts to defraud you by falsely posing as a legitimate organisation via text message. Often they will claim to be from a bank or government agency like the Australian Tax Office or the Australian Federal Police, urging you to take some form of action to avoid a negative consequence. Typically, this action will involve:
- calling the number
- replying to the number
- clicking on a link contained within the SMS
It’s important not to engage with the SMS since doing so could potentially:
- Infect your phone with malware or spyware
- Incur a costly pay-per-minute bill
- Trick you into a subscription
- Alert scammers that your number is active and worth targeting in the future
Phone virus scams appear as (false) alerts, notifying you that a virus has been detected on your phone. This is done with the aim of tricking you into downloading malicious malware or spyware onto your device disguised as an “anti-virus” app. Installing this app on your phone allows scammers to steal your personal information or, in some cases, hijack your phone altogether.
Voice mail scams
Voice mail scams, otherwise known as voice phishing or vishing, occur when you receive a call (or voice mail) from a scammer claiming to be from a legitimate organisation. Generally, these types of scammers will create a sense of urgency to try and convince you to take action during the phone call. Often, this involves providing your personal information or financial details.
Quite often scammers will pose as a representative from the Australian Taxation Office insisting that you must settle your outstanding tax𑁋don’t fall for it. When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the company/organisation directly.
One ring scams
One-ring scam calls are a type of fraud that involves criminals calling people and hanging up after one ring. The scammers will sometimes leave a missed call message on your phone in the hopes that you’ll call back.
When you do call back, you’ll usually be charged an exorbitant amount of money for the call which goes straight into the pocket of the scammer.
Social media spam
Social media spam is a type of fraud that uses social media sites, like Facebook and Instagram, to spread malicious links or fake offers, often via fake profiles. These links often lead to phishing websites that steal your personal information or infect your device with malware.
How to avoid phone scams
Use a call-blocking service
If you’re getting a lot of unwanted calls, it’s a good idea to register your number with a legitimate call-blocking service to stop scammers from getting through. The Australian Government’s Do Not Call Register, for example, is a trusted and secure database that allows you to block/opt out of receiving unsolicited calls and faxes related to scams. If you’re interested in registering your phone number, then check out donotcall.gov.au.
Verify the caller
If you get a phone call from an unknown number where the caller is claiming to be a representative of an organisation (e.g. bank, tech company) you already do business with, it’s best practice to hang up and contact the company again using their official contact details.
Review your social media security settings
If you use social media, it’s important to make sure your security settings are up to scratch. Changing your privacy preference is an easy way to enhance your safety online by reducing the amount of spam and scam messages you see in your feed.
Don’t give out your personal details
You should always be wary of how much personal information you disclose online. As a rule of thumb, you should never give out your personal information—online account details, email or passwords—to someone you don’t know.
Practice good digital hygiene
One of the best ways to protect yourself from phone scams is to practice good digital hygiene. This can include things such as:
- Refraining from using public WiFi (without a VPN)
- Using strong passwords and changing them regularly
- Only using official apps and services
- Installing credible cybersecurity apps on your phone