Landline telephone
Credit: Daniel Oines (dno1967b on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Despite the rise in popularity of Internet banking scams, telephone banking scams are still very much alive and kicking. Now that scammers have found ways to circumvent caller ID blocking and intercept calling devices, every day there are likely thousands of people receiving calls that are less than legit.

The techniques telephone banking scammers use are not very different from those Internet phishermen use to try and bait people into giving up personal information. Most of these are based on traditional social engineering techniques. When scammers make telephone calls to individual homes they immediately employ these social engineer tactics to either sweet-talk, bully or scare people into offering the information they desperately want.

For sweet talk they may offer a "special deal" (usually very attractive) in order to convince people to share information; they may also try and instill fear by saying an account has been compromised, or may just be pushy and try to bully the person on the receiving end to share information by making them frustrated enough where they will say anything to get off the phone.

Whatever the approach, sometimes it is easy to pinpoint a scammer, but not always. These are some of the things you should do or look out for to avoid telephone banking scams.

Caller ID and Call Intercept

While caller ID devices are great deterrents to cut back on scam calls, unfortunately they do not block or identify 100 percent of the calls, so if you rely on these tools, chances are you might be fooled by one of those scammers who do get through (and many of them do). Use these tools, but combine this use with vigilance and know what else to look for if you do get a call from a potential scammer.

Scammers are now also trying to trick people by "using caller ID spoofing technology to impersonate the phone numbers of local businesses, neighbors and even you!" (Better Business Bureau) 1 It's odd to see your own phone number pop up on Caller ID, but it happens!

Additionally, these days telephone scammers are spoofing numbers and it may appear as if someone you recognize is calling you. With banking scams, what schemers do is randomly call people claiming to be from one of the bigger and/or more commonly used banks in hopes their target actually uses the bank. 

Unless you are absolutely familiar with the voice on the other end, the person claiming to be calling from the bank may not be who you think.

Caller ID
Credit: Tony Crider on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Never Give out Information

Even if you think it may really be your bank calling, never give out any personal or sensitive information. Common information telephone scammers look to get is verification that the person they are calling resides at the phone number; from here it is easy to find an address and all sorts of other information. Or they may straight out ask for your address indicating they want to mail you something or a special offer.

The bank scammer may also be bold enough to ask for social security numbers, PINs, a birthday or verification of account numbers or passwords. Legitimate callers will never ask for any of this kind of sensitive information; don't ever give this information at all. Also avoid answering anything about your mother's maiden name or other security questions banks and other secured accounts keep on record.

Other objectives the caller may be trying to find out is to phish whether or not you have an actual account at the bank they are trying to portray. If they get lucky and you verify this information for them, their next move may be to try and access online banking or find some other way into your accounts. The more information the scammer is armed with, the closer they get to gaining access.

If you get a suspicious phone call and do happen to pick it up, tell them you cannot take the call right now and then immediately get out your credit card or bank statement and call the bank directly. If the call was legitimate you can resolve the issue, but if not, you'll have successfully evaded a scammer. A few years back I got an odd call, so I went into the local branch to question it. The manager called the number I jotted from the caller ID and he confirmed it was absolutely a scam.

Scammers even target you when you're not at home. Other scammers target hotel rooms and pose as the front desk or other "legitimate" sounding person calling trying to convince people to give up their financial information.

Listen to the Caller

Does the person identify his or herself and immediately tell you the reason for calling? If not, then tell them no thank you and hang up. Any real offer will give a detailed explanation of who they are and why they are calling; although some scammers have this technique down pat, so do be careful either way.

Is the caller pushy and talking rapidly? If so, then they are likely not legit, real banks want you to listen and offer good customer service; pushy people in a rush don't have any investment in developing good customer relations and just want to hurry up and get the information they seek.

You can often get a lot of clues based on the callers manner of speaking and their behavior, usually your gut instinct will let you know, but some callers are really good at sounding authentic; always err on the side of caution.

1981 apartment kitchen (woman on phone)
Credit: Daniel Oines (dno1967b on Flickr)/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Beware of Automated Callers

Sometimes scammers will hook up their swindle scheme to an automated calling approach. What happens is they ask you to either press "1" (or another number) to continue or be taken off the list. The key here is to not do either, by doing so you validate the call and/or potentially your identity.

Telephone bank scammers are still very much enthusiastically trying their best to swindle people out of their money. With so much effort and attention being given to Internet scammers, some telephone scammers can be pretty bold.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the best way to avoid telephone banking scams is to learn "how to recognize and identify the most the most common telemarketing scams." 2

Also, don't forget to register your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry (U.S.) or the National Do Not Call List (Canada). 3, 4 While registering your number will not completely eliminate scams, it will reduce the number of marketing calls you receive in general. This is especially important in light of several massive data breaches. The phishermen are ready and waiting to try and snag your personal and/or financial information. It may be they already have some information on you or they may have none. Either way, avoid giving them extra ammo if they try and scam information from you by telephone. Don't give out financial or personally identifying information (PII) to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call yourself.