Common Phone Scams: The Best Tips To Avoid Becoming A Victim

Nearly all of the phone calls I have recently received are common phone scams. In fact, whenever my cell phone rings, I just assume it’s a scammer.  If it’s a number I don’t recognize, I don’t answer it. They can send me a text or leave me a message, it’s just that simple. But, after…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 25, 2023

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common phone scamsNearly all of the phone calls I have recently received are common phone scams. In fact, whenever my cell phone rings, I just assume it’s a scammer. 

If it’s a number I don’t recognize, I don’t answer it. They can send me a text or leave me a message, it’s just that simple.

But, after talking to others about how many scam phone calls I was receiving, it turns out that everyone I know has been getting more and more of them. I guess it’s not surprising that by the end of 2019, it’s expected that nearly half of all mobile phone calls will be phone scams

When I accidentally do answer one of these calls, I can tell that the phone scam is clearly fake, but I can see how many people fall for them. Sometimes, they do sound quite real, and if you’re unaware of what’s going on or tired when you answer the phone, then you are even more likely to fall for one.

Phone scams can range widely too. They may say that they know you, work at a company that you do business with, or they may be threatening.

While many people believe that phone scams are something they would never fall for, they exist for a reason. 

Sadly, that’s because someone is falling for them.

According to a study done by TrueCaller in 2018, nearly 1 and 10 Americans have fallen for one. What’s really shocking is that Americans lost $9 billion that same year to scam calls.

More statistics from the study include:

  • Free vacation scams are the most common.
  • Households with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 are less likely to fall for a scam call.
  • College graduates are twice as likely to fall for a phone scam.
  • 96% of victims do take action – this was good to hear!

Rather than waiting until you’re a victim to take action, I want to help you learn how to avoid phone scams all together.

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Below are common phone scams and what to do if you encounter one.


Common phone scams.

There are lots of different phone scams out there, but they are all similar in that they are trying to get something from you. This list is the most common phone scams that keep working for scammers time and time again.

  • The iTunes gift card IRS scam. This is one of the latest phone scams and it’s when you get a phone call from someone pretending to be from the IRS. The person on the line says that you’ll be arrested unless you pay your taxes ASAP. They then ask you to go to the store and purchase tons of iTunes gift cards in exchange for payment. I know this sounds ridiculous, but sadly, many people are falling for it. Trust me, the IRS will never accept payment in the form of iTunes gift cards.
  • The free vacation scam. Many phone scammers try to trick you by saying that you’ve won a vacation. While it may seem like you’ve won something, you most likely have not. But, even if the vacation actually does exist, there are probably expenses you will have to pay for (that’s how they make their money).
  • The student loan or credit card debt phone scams. I get these phone calls ALL THE TIME, and I know they are a scam because I do not have any student loans or credit card debt. These calls are usually trying to get information out of you, such as your Social Security number.
  • The “You won money!” phone scam. Oh, the lottery scam… Rarely a week goes by where I don’t “win” $100,000,000. The lottery scam is when a scammer calls stating that you have won the lottery. They only need you to pay some money upfront before you can claim your lottery winnings. They also may say that they are required to get your personal information. Trust me, no one is going to call you or send you an email when you win a million or a billion dollars. Often, these are for foriegn lotteries, so you will know it’s fake because you most likely never even entered to win a foreign lottery in the first place. Lotteries also never ask for you to pay fees, so that is another clue.
  • The “Yes” phone scam. This is a scam where the caller simply tries to get you to say yes, such as by asking “Is your name ____?” They are trying to record you saying yes, so that they have “proof” that you said yes to buying their item over the phone.


To avoid phone scams, block unwanted calls.

The Do Not Call registry can help stop sales calls, which may include some scammers. But, like most people who have signed up for the Do Not Call list, it’s still very possible to receive scam calls.

So, what you’ll want to do next is to block calls.

According to the FTC’s article How To Block Unwanted Calls:

  • They say the best way to stop phone scam calls is through call blocking.
  • This can be done through a feature on your phone, a service that your phone carrier offers, or even through an app.
  • With apps, phone calls can be blocked based on location/area code, a blacklist of numbers to block, and so on.

For me, I try not to answer any calls that I’m not familiar with. I then look up their number to make sure it’s someone I know before I call back. You can do this simply by just searching the phone number on Google.


Don’t fall for local numbers.

Scammers go to great lengths to trick people into thinking that scam phone calls are real. One of the newer methods they use is something called neighbor spoofing. This is when scammers modify their phone number so it looks like the call is local.

I know many people who think that if a call is local then it must be okay, but that’s not true anymore. 

If you do answer the phone when someone is using neighbor spoofing, the scammers put you on an active call list because they know someone will answer. You will likely get even more scam calls after you answer the first one.

Remember, if someone really wants to get in touch with you, they can leave a message or text. 


Don’t give out information unless you’re sure it’s needed and going to the right place.

This is the most important thing in this article, and scammers are out there just hoping to find someone who will fall for one of their tricks and get your personal information.

Asking for personal information is very common with IRS scam calls or Social Security scam calls. But, scammers might also claim they are from your bank or credit card company. Even the common student loan scam is just phishing for your Social Security number.

Because people fear that they are going to be penalized, many people fall for these scam calls and hand out their information.

To protect yourself and your information, you should do a little research before giving anything out. Start by hanging up and calling the company back on a number you know. For example, if they claim they are from your credit card company, call the number on the back of your card to verify.

You should be 100% sure that the person you’re giving personal information to is who they say the are. Unfortunately, in many cases, it turns out that the original person you talked to was actually a scammer.

If it turns out the call was a scam, you can put a block on that number.


More tips to avoid becoming a victim of phone scams.

Even though many fall victim to phone and online scams every day, there are many ways to avoid being the next victim.

If you’re not sure about who is calling, then you should hang up. If you have any doubts, then you should follow your intuition.

Below are more tips to stay safe:

  • If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Don’t call numbers back that you’re unfamiliar with. This could be a scam in which you are paying per minute fees.
  • Keep your personal information safe and do not give it away unless you are 100% sure that it is needed.
  • Occasionally, phone scammers will try to get you through email as well. Don’t always trust the sender’s email address. If it seems fishy at all, the email may be cloaked in order to trick you.
  • Always be sure that it’s not a phone scam before you send anyone money.
  • Ask questions. If you do end up talking to someone on the phone, you should ask them who they are, their name, why they need the information, and their badge or employee number. For me, I always call back (as stated above) before I give out any personal information or pay anything.


How can I find out if a phone number is legitimate?

If you’re unsure about a phone number and you’re worried about phone call frauds, simply do a Google search.

If someone calls me and I am not familiar with the phone number, I always ignore the call and look on Google first. Just type in the number and it’ll usually tell you if it’s a scam or not.


What to do if you are a victim of a phone scam.

Hopefully you never have to worry about this, but becoming a victim of a scammer can be damaging to your financial and emotional health. You may lose money, feel stressed or distrustful, and more. 

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to report the scam and protect yourself from further damage.

  • Contact your state attorney general’s office to report scams related to goods or services (even if they are nonexistent ones like “free vacations”)
  • Using the website, search for your state’s consumer protection office and contact them.
  • For scams that violate federal law, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Regularly check your credit report so you can quickly identify any new activity if it happens.
  • Keep track of your bank and credit card statements so you can report charges that you haven’t authorized.

Have you been a victim of a phone scam? What phone scams have you heard of?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Golden Goose Guy

    Michelle, good of you to build awareness of this. These scammers are not only thieves, but a huge, unproductive waste of time. It’s so sad that people fall for these, as you said, but people are afraid of the government coming after them and they use this fear against them! People should know that no government will ever call you directly, they only send correspondence by mail because they want a written paper trail.

    I use a Google Voice number as my second number, which is the only one I ever give out outside of friends, family, and core services like banking, because you can easily block numbers or change your number. I learned this trick while at the airlines in St. Louis, because crew scheduling used to call us for overtime at 5 am on our days off (no thanks!).
    – Josh

    1. The threatening/fear ones are the worst!

  2. I agree! Scam calls have gotten much worse recently. The biggest ones in Canada right now seem to be the one in Chinese, clearly targetting new immigrants (I was getting that one multiple times every day!), and the Canada Revenue Agency claiming that you owe money and there’s a warrant for your arrest. Like you, I have stopped answering the phone if it’s a number I don’t know. Unfortunately they ghost a different phone number each time, so it can be hard to block them.

    1. I get those too, they are so annoying!

  3. Ahhh, I have won so many free vacations. NOT! That’s why I stopped answering unknown numbers years ago. And the ones that match the first 3 digits on my own # (spoofing) are definitely a no-no.

    Unfortunately, they tend to prey on the elderly a lot. My in-laws got a call years ago about bailing one of their granddaughters out of jail in NY (we all live in the PNW), which they knew was fake, since she never calls for absolutely anything haha. They also got a call about “a problem with their computer. We were there, and so my father in law gave the phone to my husband, who told them he was right in front of their computer and knew there was nothing wrong with it, and to never, ever call to try to scam his parents again.

    As for me, as soon as I get a call from an unknown #, I block it. I know the #s of the people who matter to me, which makes it easier to avoid scammers. Thank you for posting this!

    1. Almost no one calls me, so it’s really easy for me to know if it’s a scam, haha.

      1. Same here, nowadays, and I’m not complaining 😀

  4. Pat

    I’ve gotten so many scam calls, it’s driving me crazy to the point of turning off my ringer. But then I have a grandson who been having some health issues and I worry if I miss a call from my daughter about this. He’s ended up in the hospital 3 times in the last six months due to collapsed lungs. So for most calls I let them ring out then add to my block numbers which must be a least a hundred miles long. Also get many from a number in Towson MD with the first three numbers are 410-790 but the last four are always different. Times I would get over 10 of these a day.These calls really drive me crazy, wish for a better way to make them stop. Want to also want everyone aware of calls that comes in the person ask if this is so and so. Never, never say yes. I’ve heard this is a way they can get your information from your phone even personnel info so they can get into your credit. I’ve received these calls and when they ask if this is ( my name ) I say speaking and they immediately hang up on me. And at that point I know what they was after but because of the way I answered they wasn’t able to scam me.

    So never ever answer YES to a phone call.

    1. Thank you for sharing. So sorry about your grandson.

  5. I receive too many scam calls. So I made a rule not to pick a call from unknown number for first time. Usually scammers knock another door if victim doesn’t pick up call. If I get second call from same number then I answer it. It works for me.

  6. Cara Jones

    This is such a frustrating problem. I feel like some days I get more phone scam calls than real ones on my cell phone! My favorite is when my OWN number calls me! Thanks for the helpful tips to avoid being a victim of phone scams!

  7. Tanmay

    I got fed with the scam and fake calls. However, I have installed truecaller which mostly identify that which call is a fake or spam. Whenever, it gives a red signal I usually avoid picking up that call.