As we discussed in our article Always Read the Fine Print, if you agree to the Terms of Service contract that allows your information to be sold to third parties, you will likely receive numerous unsolicited robocalls. Many of those calls are clearly fraudulent, but annoying nonetheless. However, as we mentioned in our Social Security Scams blog, a few calls can be rather convincing by creating a sense of urgency or implementing other fear tactics.

By interacting with an impersonator or dialing a number left in a voicemail, victims can become prey to telephone scammers. The end goal of these scammers is to obtain personal information and sell it for monetary gain or steal money through hijacked financial information. Protect yourself or your loved ones by learning about telephone scam red flags and robocall resistance efforts.

Red Flags and Look Fors

Explore these common warning signs of fraudulent robocalls and telephone scams and how to protect against them.

What to Look For

  • An automated sales call from a service provider or company you did give consent to contact you.
  • A prerecorded message that prompts you to press a number or key to be taken off the call list.
  • A message offers products or services for free or at heavily discounted prices.
  • A message that claims you have won a lottery or sweepstakes prize and tells you to press a number or key to claim your winnings.
  • An automated message states you owe back taxes or unpaid bills and will face legal action or financial consequences if you do not pay immediately.

Protect Yourself

  • If the call is unexpected or suspicious, hang up.
  • If you answer a questionable call, do not interact with the impersonator or the automated message.
  • If an unexpected call requires you to press a number or key, hang up.
  • Interacting lets scammers know the call was answered by a working number, which could lead to more telephone scams.
  • Never opt to “speak to a live operator” as they will likely use scare tactics to force unknowing seniors into providing personal or financial information.
  • DO NOT share personal or financial information with someone you do not know and cannot verify.
  • DO NOT trust your caller ID.
  • Caller ID can be faked. Phone numbers can be made to look like the real government agency’s number. Names can be made to read like “Social Security Administration”.
  • Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry operated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Unfortunately it will not stop robocalls, but legitimate telemarketers will not contact numbers on the registry. This makes spotting fraudulent calls easier.
  • ALWAYS report a suspected scam.

Recent Rebounds

Research shows that there was a major drop in robocalls in 2020 – 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, because many call centers were closed. “Robocall volume in the U.S. hit an estimated 5.7 billion calls — an all-time high — in October 2019, then sank to about 3 billion a month in the spring of 2020” according to YouMail’s Robocall Index. But this drop did not last long. The FTC has recently estimated about 4.1 billion robocalls a month, with a majority of those calls being government agency impostor scams. As mentioned in our Social Security Scams blog, mobile telecommunication company T-Mobile believes that out of the 21 billion scam calls the company flagged in 2021, at least 10%, or two billion calls, were from Social Security impersonators. T-Mobile claims this number would have been much higher if it wasn’t for their scam shields.

Advantageous Approaches

Scam shields and other spam blockers are great tools to reduce the amount of robocalls and potential telephone scams you are receiving. The following approaches prevent the risk of telephone scams:

Call Blockers

  • A call blocker is a tool used by phone companies to stop illegal and unsolicited calls from reaching your phone. If your current provider does not offer call blocking, research some free services such as YouMail. If the free solutions to reduce robocalls are not working, it may be worth paying the extra cost to have the feature administered straight from your phone company.

Forward to Voicemail

  • The FTC advises that consumers send all unknown or unexpected calls straight to voicemail. Once you listen to the voicemail, do NOT call a number left if the message threatens to initiate legal or financial consequences. The FTC stresses that a government agency employee will “never threaten you for information; they will not state that you face potential arrest or other legal action if you fail to provide information.”

Hang Up, Don’t Interact

  • If you answer a suspicious call that prompts you to press a key to speak to a live representative, do not engage. Live operators will use fear tactics to create a fake sense of urgency that encourages seniors to willingly give up personal and financial information.
  • AARP suggests that “If the robocall claims to be from, say, Social Security or your bank, hang up and look up the real number for that entity. Call and ask if they contacted you.”


Advice from Popular Phone Companies

In a recent interview, The American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, asked T-Mobile and AT&T what tools and features they offer customers to prevent robocalls and protect against telephone scams.




  • T-Mobile and Sprint cellular plans include Scam Shield, a free set of tools that alerts users when a call is likely a scam and blocks calls the network considers to be more serious threats.
  • Its plans now include free caller ID.
  • Customers receive a free “proxy telephone number,” a second number to give out when looking to keep one’s main number private.
  • Customers are allowed a free number change if their current one becomes a magnet for excessive spam calls.
  • AT&T Call Protect blocks all known fraud calls outright, while suspected spam is labeled so users can choose whether to answer. The company says it blocks or labels about 1 billion robocalls a month.
  • For a fee, users can download an advanced version of the Call Protect app that includes caller ID and allows users to block, allow or send certain call types to voicemail.
  • The company’s fraud team uses machine learning to identify suspicious call patterns and prevent illegal calls.
  • AT&T uses automated scanning to identify and help block spam.

Source: AARP’s The Definitive Guide to Reducing Robocalls


Key Takeaways:

The best way to protect yourself or your loved ones from telephone scams and robocalls aimed to take advantage of seniors is to simply be aware. Keep the red flags and look-fors of common telephone scams in mind whenever answering unexpected phone calls or listening to a voicemail. Whether you are chatting with a Social Security impersonator or listening to a “You Won” Sweepstakes voicemail remember:

  • DO NOT engage
  • If anything is questionable or suspicious, HANG UP
  • NEVER share your personal or financial information
  • ALWAYS verify who you are speaking to
  • NEVER wire money or send cryptocurrency to unverified sources

Steps to Report Telephone Scams

Although federal agencies cannot investigate individual cases, you can support the fight against telephone scams by reporting your experiences. Your report helps collect evidence for lawsuits against scammers. From the FTC:

Report telephone scams online to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also call 1-877-382-4357 (TTY: 1-866-653-4261). The FTC is the primary government agency that collects scam complaints.

Report all robocalls and unwanted telemarketing calls to the Do Not Call Registry.

Report caller ID spoofing to the Federal Communications Commission. You can report either online or by phone at 1-888-225-5322 (TTY: 1-888-835-5322).

Daniel Klibanoff, an advocate for seniors, is currently serving as the President and CEO of Multimedia Lists, Inc. Daniel is also the founder and director of Elder Protective Services, an enterprise aimed to serve and protect elders. Learn more at Elder Protective Services

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