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Scammers are always finding new ways to dupe people out of money. In the U.S., phone calls remain the primary way swindlers hook older victims.

A study published last month by the Federal Trade Commission found that 24% of adults over age 60 who reported losing money to a scam in 2021 said it started with a phone call—the largest percentage of any method, including email, text and mail. For victims 80 and older, phone calls were behind 40% of scams.

Scams range from robocalls pitching car warranties to young people posing as grandchildren in need of a bailout. The best way to protect against phone scams, online-safety experts say, is to not receive the phone calls in the first place.

So how do you do that?

While ignoring mystery calls is effective, it isn’t always feasible. Perhaps you don’t have all the numbers of healthcare providers, insurance companies and other vital services stored in your phone’s contacts. Also, caller ID often doesn’t identify the name of the business that is calling. Tech companies are developing solutions for diverting scam calls. And even though the majority of Americans over 65 have smartphones, there are also ways to protect yourself if you’re on a landline.

Using tech to stop scammers

Here are some things to try—pick one to start and see if it works.

Have artificial intelligence take your calls. Online-safety company Aura has developed a bot to catch calls on iPhone and Android phones before they get to the recipient. The feature is expected to be available in the Aura app in the next few months.

When a call comes from a number that is not in the recipient’s contacts list, the bot answers and asks the caller’s name and reason for calling. The software uses that information, along with the caller’s phone number, to determine whether it’s legitimate. If the AI decides the call is fraudulent, the software blocks the call and notifies the recipient and provides a transcript. If the AI can’t determine the legitimacy, the recipient receives a notification, and can then choose whether to accept the call or send it to the Aura app’s spam folder.

A setting allows Aura to notify loved ones or caregivers if the recipient accepts potentially malicious calls. Caregivers can even enable a setting that sends all suspicious calls directly to spam. Even if a caregiver installed the app, users can still remove it.

The Aura app—which also provides identity-theft insurance, financial-fraud protection and a password manager—costs $22 a month for two adults. Prices vary for families and individuals.

If you have Google’s Pixel Android phone, Google Assistant can automatically screen calls from unknown callers. If the Assistant determines the call to be spam, your phone hangs up on the caller. If you tap “screen call,” Google Assistant will ask who’s calling and why. You’ll see a real-time transcript and can choose whether to accept or decline the call.

Follow these steps to screen calls on Pixel phones.

Set your phone to block calls. iPhone users who are running iOS 13 or later can silence unknown callers using the Phone setting. Calls from people who aren’t in your contacts list or with whom you haven’t previously been in contact won’t ring, but they will appear in your recent calls list and be sent to voice mail. Update your contacts list with important numbers so that you don’t miss calls from a doctor’s office or other important business lines.

Use an app to block calls. If following steps to block calls on your phone feels cumbersome, or unwanted calls are still slipping through, there are other apps, many free, that can do it for you. They often use a log of known or reported spam numbers to determine an incoming call’s validity. CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade association, lists robocall-blocking apps for Apple and Android devices.

What else you can do

A majority of U.S. adults over the age of 65 own a smartphone, according to Pew Research Center, but many still use landlines, which are harder to patrol. You can stop some unwanted calls by adding your number to the National Do Not Call Registry. You can also ask your phone company about call-blocking options, which usually cost extra.

Here are some tips from the AARP for recognizing fraudulent calls:

Verify the caller. If a caller claims to be a grandchild or your bank, tell the person you’ll call back and then hang up. Ask for the caller’s number. If the person refuses, that’s a red flag. If there’s any doubt, call the number you already have on file.

Screen calls from your area code. Scammers use caller-ID spoofing to hide their locations, and spam calls can appear to be originating in your own area code. A 2019 AARP survey found that 59% of respondents said they’re more likely to answer the phone if a number bears their area code. Don’t be fooled!

Don’t engage. If you can afford to ignore a mystery call, just don’t pick up the phone. If you’re expecting a call and have to answer, proceed with caution. Don’t press any keys or answer any questions in response to a prerecorded message, and don’t opt to speak to a live operator. If you doubt the legitimacy of a call, hang up.

Source: The Wall Street Journal January 7, 2023 | By Julie Jargon