Don’t fall for that emergency call: Vishing is more common than you think

In 2019, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 467,361 complaints with reported losses exceeding $3.5 billion. A big part of that damage came from vishing, a blend of “voice” and “phishing” where individuals give up financial details or other personal information to a stranger over the phone. Vishers know that if they keep the scams up long enough, someone is bound to give up their personally identifiable information (PII).

Vishing techniques are evolving

In a vishing scam, the goal is to obtain information over the phone by impersonating someone the caller would normally trust. The strategy of playing on the emotion of the “mark” is consistent throughout all known techniques. Whether playing on the panic of losing money or the excitement of perhaps winning some, the key is to get the caller talking before thinking about privacy concerns.

Common “Emergency” Scams

  • Bank Accounts: One of the more common methods is when the con artist creates a fake emergency tied to a bank or credit card in which time is of the essence. The only way to fix the “problem”? Share login details or other relevant account information.
  • Tax Returns: This works very well for tax returns too in which the visher often uses a pre-recorded message telling you there is a problem with a return and legal actions are imminent.
  • Get Rich Quick: In this case, the caller usually lets the victim believe they are missing out on the chance of a lifetime investment offer that will land them millions, or that they can finally be unsaddled of that pesky college loan debt. The tactics are cruel but surprisingly effective.

Vishing technology is getting smarter

If impersonating a financial or insurance representative seems too obvious, keep in mind that vishing calls often use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) to trick caller ID into thinking the call is coming from a trusted source.

What is more alarming is the use of “deepfake” audio AI technology to literally sound exactly like someone you know. As deepfake criminology improves in conning people out of money, consider the potential of these vishing scams to be perpetrated by the AI-generated voice of a sibling, spouse, or other loved ones. The potential is already here and makes it hard to stay completely convinced we aren’t all vulnerable.

Avoid becoming a target

  • As a pre-emptive start, opt into the national “Do Not Call” registry to help block a majority of third-party attempts
  • If a call is answered with an automated message or from someone unknown, do not follow any requested prompts or answer any questions. If possible, verify a call-back number through a trusted source such as the company’s website
  • If unsure, just hang up the phone

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