Protection from scams involving virtual phone numbers

By Elvis Huff on January 14, 2022
4 minute read

We all know, and get, those annoying robo-calls offering to sell us a car warranty, pay our utility bill, or advise us that we have won a sweepstakes.

However, do we have the same feeling of “this is a scam” if the call is a live person on the other end?

The short answer is that we should continue to keep our guard up.

As Security Week and the FBI have reported, scams using virtual phone numbers are on the rise. Scammers love to use a virtual phone number, or one that is not tied to a landline, or cell phone in their tactics. Why? The numbers are difficult to track and offer anonymity. Two great things when you are trying to defraud people.

How does it work?

A scammer obtains your real phone number, often from a site that you listed it on years ago. Examples include social media, online trading forums, sales ads, or people search engines. Phone numbers are not hard to get. The scammer contacts you, on your real phone number, with a story about a new job, offering to buy whatever you had listed for sale, or some other type of false story.

However, when the scammer contacts you, they are not trying to steal your money; they simply want to tie a virtual phone number to your email address. To do this the scammer needs to use your email address, real phone number and set it up to their virtual phone number. While talking with you, the scammer is entering in your name, email address and phone number into popular online virtual phone number services, but the virtual phone number service needs to verify the real phone number entered. So, the scammer calls you with the fake story and wants to ensure that you are indeed a real person because, you know, scams are rampant online.

The scammer says that he is sending a code to you and needs you to read it back to him to confirm your identity. This seems simple enough, so you simply read off the code and the caller is so pleased that you did so.

The call ends with a promise of a follow up, which never happens, and the scammer now has a new virtual phone number to use in future attacks that will tie back to you.

What can you do?

Be wary when asked to verify a code, especially when you receive calls at random. To be clear, banks and other businesses often use tools such as these to verify your identity. This is when you, the customer, have initiated the call, not when the scammer calls you.
If you do have to verify a code, ask why, and form what service the code will be coming from. If you continue to feel uncomfortable, end the call and call back to the business at a number you know belongs to them. Starting the process over and allowing time to elapse between the scammer’s requests and your thoughts are a good thing. This allows you time to think and apply rational thought.

Google has a great resource on how to resume control of your virtual phone number, should a scammer compromise it. Finally, you should also file a complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.

Stay safe online!

Wilson Bank and Trust is here for you. Should you need help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us online at wilsonbank.com, our mobile app, or call us at (844) WBT-BANK (844-928-2265).

Have another thought, tip or suggestion? Leave it in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

Posted by Elvis Huff

Elvis Huff worked as an officer and network administrator for 12 years with the Lebanon Police Department and has also served as an adjunct professor in information systems at Cumberland University. Read More »

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