Have you just received a phone call that appears to be from your own number? If so, it's likely a spoofed call that a scammer has set up in order to get you to answer their phone scam.
I can personally attest to this clever trick. I just recently got a call from my cell phone that claimed to be from my own number. Once I answered, I heard a message in an automated male voice, stating:
“Your account has been compromised by AT&T. At the tone, please enter the last four digits of the main account holder’s social security number.”
Apart from the weird phrasing (I'm not sure what “compromised by AT&T” is supposed to mean), there are a few ways to tell that this is a scam.
- First, robocalls aren't a common way for brands to contact their customers
- Next, the call never personally identifies whose account they're calling about, shifting the burden of identification to the listener — this allows the scammer to record a one-size-fits-all message
- Finally, it asks for four social security digits — personal information that a scammer often fishes for.
Why the Scam Works
So why is this such a clever phone scam? Because it addresses the biggest challenge a phone scammer faces: How to get a victim to pick up the phone in the first place.
Personally, I never answer my phone if I don't recognize the number, and this attitude is growing among a younger generation, too. When texting, emailing, or even Facebook messaging are the go-to options, why bother answering an unknown caller? Because, this scam hopes, you're so confused by seeing your own number that you answer just to find out what's going on.
Then, the scam offers an easy explanation. The automated voice claims to be from your own phone carrier.
I do indeed use AT&T — this scam potentially targets only AT&T customers, as this is still a huge base. Granted, it doesn't make a lot of sense that a phone carrier would call from its clients' numbers rather than their own, but it only has to make a moment of sense to trick a few people into giving up their social security digits.
Best Practices for Phone Scams
If you want to avoid fielding scam calls all day, you have a few options.
Don't Pick Up
If you don't pick up the phone when you don't recognize the number, you'll avoid this phone scam and any like it. The downside? Sometimes you'll miss a legitimate call.
Join the Do Not Call List
The federally run Do Not Call list is able to keep some — but far from all — robocalls away from your number. Since scammers aren't exactly concerned with staying legal, they'll likely keep calling, but you'll see a reduction in the number of automated calls.
Don't Say Much
If you're suspicious of a call, don't say very much. Even just a simple “yes” in your voice could be recorded and played back by a scammer who wants to impersonate you.
The Growing Threat of Phone Scams
Phone scams are getting worse. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission logged 4.5 million complaints about robocalls in 2017 — more than twice the 2.18 million complaints they saw in 2013, according to a recent New York Times article.
The call-from-your-own number AT&T-impersonating phone scam has been making the rounds since at least September 2017, as Good Housekeeping has covered in the past. A variation, where the phone number is spoofed to have the same area code, has been around even longer.
Scammers will keep using these scams as long as they're still working, so stay vigilant. Above all, if someone calls you from your own phone number, don't bother picking up.
Stay safe online, too – read our roundup of the latest online scams to avoid