Spot the scam: How to protect yourself from phone scammers

Thad White profile image January 20, 2023 | 4 min read

You get a phone call from the IRS. A stern voice on the other side coldly says you owe a large amount of back taxes and that if you don’t go to the bank right now and transfer it over, the authorities will arrest you for tax fraud.

A terrifying thought, and one that’s happened to many of us because of fraudsters. Telephone scammers are adept at deception; it’s what they do. And it can be challenging to spot.

Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones safer when receiving or making a phone call.

How to recognize a phone scammer

Phone scammers ply their criminal trade for a number of reasons. Typically, they want your money. Some people have lost their life savings, either through insidious identity theft, or by voluntarily sharing Social Security numbers and other personal or financial information with someone they erroneously believed was from their bank or a government agency.

Five common phone scams:

“You’ve won our sweepstakes!”

If you’d really won a prize, you would be officially notified by mail or perhaps by email, not via a phone call. Especially not when you’re required to provide personal data—such as your bank account or debit card number—in order to receive the award. That’s a scam.

“You owe back taxes.”

Fear is a powerful motivator. If you receive a call purporting to be from the IRS or some other official agency saying you need to pay a debt immediately or face arrest, hang up and report it. Real government agencies will send a letter—and they won’t make threats.

“My wallet was stolen!”

This one is particularly sinister: Using the name of someone you know, a scammer calls and in a somewhat garbled voice, says they are out of the country and their wallet was stolen. They beg you to wire enough money for them to get home, promising to pay you back as soon as they arrive.

“This amazing offer expires tonight!”

And you didn’t even know about it until the company phoned? A legitimate business will send the offer in writing, or you’ll be able to find it on their website. Don’t be swayed by a false sense of urgency.

“Our charity needs your help.”

From disaster relief to impoverished children or endangered species, there is no end to the type of charity schemes phone scammers create. Asking for a donation tugs at the heartstrings. Respond that you’ll check out the charity and decide later. If it’s legitimate and you want to contribute, you can mail a check or donate online.

How to protect yourself from phone scammers

Whether you hear an offer, an appeal or a threat, the solution is simple: Don’t fall for it! Never give out your personal information over the telephone, unless you initiate the call to a trusted source—not to a number someone who called you asks you to return.

Besides being vigilant, set strong boundaries: Just say no when you’re asked for your phone number. Give a retailer your email instead. Tell them you choose to keep your phone number private.

Installing Ooma phone service can help foil scammers. Here’s how:

Call Blocking.

Ooma’s powerful VoIP phone service blocks more than one million telemarketing calls each month, something you typically can’t get with landline service. And you can choose expanded call blocking to build your own customizable call blocking profile. It’s like a firewall for your phone, designed to thwart scammers.

Private Device.

With Ooma Premier, you can set up one of your phones with a dedicated number that only rings when it is dialed. You can give this number exclusively to those you want to hear from often.

Contacts Only Calling.

Turn on this Ooma Premier feature to only receive calls from people on your Ooma Contacts list, so spam and fraud calls can’t get through. It’s our most restrictive call blocking setting, available to all Ooma Premier members. In addition to blocking scam calls, Contacts Only Calling keeps those pesky telemarketers from getting through—a welcome relief at dinnertime.

How to report phone scams in the US

If you’ve lost money to a phone scam—or have information about a company or scammer who called you—report it to the Federal Trade Commission at

If you want to stop calls that aren’t necessarily a scam, you can report them to the Do Not Call Registry, which also allows you to register your phone and opt out of telemarketing calls at

Be sure to report the actual number that appears on your caller ID, as well as any number the scammer asks you to call back. Unfortunately, you can’t totally trust caller ID these days, because scammers can make any number look like something legitimate. It’s called “spoofing.”

Spoofing means that even if the call appears to be coming from a friend, an official government organization like the Social Security Administration, or, say, a store in your area, it could be a scammer calling from anywhere in the world.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now requires phone service providers to use the new STIR/SHAKEN caller ID standards to help protect consumers from deceitful robocallers, making it easier to route authentic calls and block suspicious ones.

The FTC analyzes complaint data based on call patterns. They release a compiled list of scam numbers to the public, which helps phone carriers that are working on call blocking and call-labeling solutions.

By being super stingy with your personal information and installing Ooma home phone service, you’ll help protect yourself from phone scammers. Spread the word, and keep your personal and financial information secure.