Why that annoying silent phone call could make you a target for scammers

Posted at 10:20 AM, Aug 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-25 12:20:23-04

You answer the phone. “Hello? Hello?!” But no one is there. It’s something that has happened to all of us. But as it turns out, security experts say answering that “silent call” could make you a target for scammers.

Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO of Pindrop Security, says criminals use automated computer systems to robocall phone numbers across the country, according to NPR.

That call you receive, with silence on the other end, is “the first of the reconnaissance calls that these fraudsters do,” Balasubramaniyan told NPR. “They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end? You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

After the scammers confirm your number is a working number, they will call back with a prerecorded message informing you of “unusual activity” on your credit card. The message usually includes a threat that your account may be closed if the issue is not resolved. If you “press 1,” you’re then asked to confirm or provide personal information like your date of birth or Social Security number.

According to NPR, researchers estimate 1 in every 2,200 calls is a fraud attempt.

So how can you keep yourself safe? The best way is to never answer a call from a phone number you do not recognize. Also, it’s not recommended to call back unknown numbers — this is also a way for scammers to confirm your number is a working number.

The FTC recommends that consumers “just hang up” on the robocalls. If you’re ever given the option to “press 1” to remove your number from their calling list, it’s recommended you ignore that request.

“We don’t want consumers to engage in any way with robocallers,” Patty Hsue, an attorney who leads the FTC’s effort against robocalls, told NPR. “A lot of times when you get a robocall you have the option of pressing 1 for more information or pressing 2 to ask to be removed from the list. And in either case, pressing 1 or 2 basically lets the robocaller know that it’s a live person on the other line who’s willing to engage and that could lead to additional robocalls.”