Most of us are used to receiving at least one phone call a day from an unknown number. In fact, it's a good day if that's the only unsolicited call we get. And despite warnings not to answer calls from strangers, we often pick up just in case—especially if we think there's a chance it could be important. But if you are prone to answering the phone when you see an unknown number, it's important to know how to tell if the person on the other end is trying to scam you. Now, authorities have issued a new alert in an effort to help keep you safe. Read on to find out what you need to be listening out for.
Phone scams are on the rise.
You might have experienced a momentary lull in phone scams when the COVID pandemic first started, but sadly, the situation has gotten worse since then. "We saw the first major drop in robocalls [in 2020] because call centers were closed, but now robocalls are exploding," Alex Quilici, CEO of robocall-block software developer YouMail, told AARP in May 2022.
According to YouMail, robocalls in the U.S. hit an all-time high in Oct. 2019 at an estimated 5.7 billions calls before dropping to 3 billion a month in the spring of 2020. Over the past year, however, that number has shot back up, with robocalls averaging around 4.1 billion per month. "Having computers dialing a bunch of numbers is a fast, efficient, and extremely cheap way to get to as many people as possible," Quilici told the news outlet, noting that the current rate equates to over 1,500 phone scam calls per second.
Now, authorities are alerting Americans to one phone scam in particular.
Police are warning you to listen for this when you answer the phone.
Police in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, are now urging the public to be alert for one telephone scam, local news station WFMZ reported. Wyomissing police posted a "Scam Alert" on their website on Sept. 22, warning residents about scammers calling and impersonating the department.
"It has come to our attention that people are receiving phone calls claiming to be from a representative of the Wyomissing Police Department," the authorities wrote, noting that the scam call "has made references to a subpoena and safety of a family member."
There is one obvious sign that you're being contacted by scammers.
Police-impersonating phone scams are not rare. Back in May, authorities in Connecticut and North Carolina both warned about robocalls where scammers would pretend to be police officers, demanding victims verify personal information or threatening them with news of a fake outstanding warrant. But according to authorities in Wyomissing, there is one clear sign that you're dealing with a scammer and not an actual police department: an automated voice on the other end of the line.
"The voice is an obvious computer generated one," Wyomissing police wrote in their warning. "If you should receive a call like this, it is a scam of some sort. If you were to be contacted by someone from the Wyomissing Police Department, the voice would be that of a human and not a computer."
Hang up and call local police if you hear an automated voice.
The Wyomissing Police Department also warned Americans that authorities will never call and ask for money in order for you to avoid an arrest. And you will never be asked to pay a fine with gift cards either, so consider it another major red flag if an automated caller is requesting money from you that way.
"If you should receive a call such as this, contact your local police department to advise them," the Wyomissing Police Department wrote in their scam alert.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also asks that you report the call to their agency. "The FTC takes the illegal callers' phone numbers you report and releases them to the public each business day. This helps phone companies and other partners that are working on call-blocking and call-labeling solutions," the agency explains. "Your reports also help law enforcement identify the people behind illegal calls."