6 signs you’ve been scammed over the phone – and what to do next

Scammers demonstrate significant knowledge about you.

Unsure if you’ve been caught out by a phone scam?
Unsure if you’ve been caught out by a phone scam? Unsure if you’ve been caught out by a phone scam? (Alamy Stock Photo)

Concerned about phone scams? EE, part of the BT Group, has launched a new subscription service to help protect mobile phone users from falling prey to scammers and nuisance calls.

Called Scam Guard, it promises to use AI to spot likely spam calls and alert users to them, and is being made available to pay-monthly customers, starting from £1 a month.

Across the UK, 40% of crime committed was fraud-based, according to government research published earlier this year, and 96% of mobile phone users have received regular nuisance calls.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

So, what are the signs that you’ve been contacted by a phone scammer? And what should you do next?

1. Unsolicited contact

Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research and reporting at Bitdefender, says the first sign you are probably being scammed is unsolicited contact from an entity you may or may not be working with – such as the bank, cable provider, insurance company or investment firm.

“When they reach out, scammers might demonstrate significant knowledge about you, but they would also like to validate that they are talking to the right person by inquiring about personal, confidential information such as credit card number, bank account details, social security number or account usernames or passwords,” says Botezatu.

“This information should never be handed over to third parties, especially to people over the phone,” he warns.

2. Unfamiliar numbers

Similarly, if the call comes from a number you don’t recognise, or a withheld/unknown number is shown, be extra cautious.

“If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognise, especially one that appears to be from a different country or a suspicious area code, it could be a scam,” says Rob Cottrill, technology director at ANS.

3. Urgent requests for money or information

Cottrill also says scammers often create a sense of urgency, asking for immediate payment or sensitive personal information.

“For instance, they might use AI to mimic the distressed voice of a loved one, claiming they are in trouble and need money urgently. They may also start the call with a question designed for you to say ‘yes’, which could be recorded and used as proof of authorising a transaction,” adds Cottrill.

Botezatu agrees, saying this is why phone scams tend to be more effective than those run over email and text/messaging.

“Attackers have a wide range of pretexts they can use – they might be impersonating a police officer investigating a so-called offence and offering a one-time deal to pay a fine rather than going to jail; they might also impersonate your IT department or internet service provider and demand passwords or otherwise risk getting disconnected,” he adds.

4. Unusual payment methods

(Alamy Stock Photo)

According to Botezatu, another tell-tale sign of getting scammed is the request for payment via unusual payment methods or with unusual currency.

For example, he adds: “Cyber-criminals demand payment in voucher cards or other anonymous, irrevocable payment methods.”

5. Investment opportunities

Botezatu says: “Investment opportunities are another hot take on scams – these scammers usually blend a sense of urgency (you can invest, but only today) while overpromising on earnings.

“Hackers often promise returns of the investment in the range of 10 to 100x the amount of money you are willing to spend.”

6. Requesting sensitive information

Grigoris Papoutsis, senior training developer at Hack The Box, says scammers are also likely to request sensitive information – whether that’s banking details, a code sent to your phone that they claim will be texted to you, or answers to a security question.

“They are trying to lure information out of the person on the phone, when in reality, legitimate organisations won’t take this information over the phone – or you should always hang up and call them back on a verified number before sharing,” he explains.

What should you do if you think it’s a phone scam?

First of all, Cottrill suggests trying to verify the caller’s identity.

“If you suspect a scam, do not trust the caller blindly. Hang up and call back using a trusted number from the company’s official website or from your contact list,” he urges.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

Only continue the conversation once you’ve taken steps to be sure it’s legitimate and safe. If in doubt, hang up.

“Inform your phone service provider and report the scam to relevant authorities such as Action Fraud in the UK. Reporting helps track scam activities and can prevent others from being victimised,” says Cottrill.

He also encourage everyone to help “educate and support vulnerable individuals, particularly consider the elderly who may be more reliant on landlines and less tech-savvy. Providing education on how to identify and avoid scams can help protect them,” Cottrill adds.

Keep a close watch on your bank accounts and credit reports too for any suspicious activity.

“If you’ve shared any personal information, contact your bank and relevant institutions immediately to secure your accounts,” Cottrill adds. “Utilise call-blocking features on your phone, and consider using apps designed to detect and block scam calls. Also, review and adjust privacy settings on your social media to limit the amount of personal information accessible to potential scammers.

“Keep up-to-date with the latest scam tactics and advice from trusted sources. Being aware of evolving scam strategies can help you remain vigilant and better prepared to recognise and avoid scams.”