Misdialed Toll-Free Numbers: Phone Scam Overview
Sometimes referred to as fat-finger dialing scams, misdialed toll-free numbers can lead to stolen money and other fraud. It's relatively easy to call the wrong phone number; perhaps you entered it incorrectly into your phone or misread it from a web page or packaging. Typically, you'll realize quite quickly if you've dialed a wrong number; however, this may not always be the case with toll-free numbers.
In recent years, toll-free numbers have expanded to include numbers different from the traditional 1-800 prefix. Current prefixes include 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833. As the need for toll-free numbers increases, so does the choice for prefixes. Scammers take advantage of the confusion and lure in unsuspecting victims to steal money and information.
Criminals purchase toll-free numbers similar to those of credit card companies, banks, phone carriers, and other customer service lines to trick you into giving up personal information.
Why Do Scammers Use Toll-Free Numbers?
Everyone misdials on occasion, no matter if they use a landline or cell phone. Con artists take advantage of the misdial to solicit information from unsuspecting callers for identity theft or stealing funds. The occurrence is common enough for fraudsters to make a tremendous amount of money each year from this simple scam.
While the phone scam can target any business or organization, banks claim misdialed numbers as an increasing issue.
Pindrop Security, a voice authentication and fraud detection service, made a study of over 600 financial institutions in the United States. They took numbers from these institutions and then ran variations of their toll-free numbers to see if there were scams associated with them. What they found is that nearly 1 in 6 financial institutions in their study were being threatened by misdial scams. Many of the bank and credit card unions they looked at had multiple numbers that were being targeted by misdial traps. It’s likely that thousands of banks across the country have scammers waiting for someone to misdial their customer service lines.
How Does the Misdialed Toll-Free Numbers Phone Scam Work?
Anyone can purchase a toll-free number in a number of different ways for their business use, so scammers often buy toll-free numbers that are a digit or two off from a trusted toll-free number.
A company may publish a toll-free number designated for customers to call about a product recall. The new toll-free number allows scammers to purchase a similar toll-free number. Anyone who misdials the toll-free number will give up their information without a second thought to the phone scammer, simply because they think that the person they are calling is a legitimate company representative.
Once a victim has misdialed a toll-free number and is on the line, the fraudster asks for identifying information. The information could include anything, from personal information such as name, address, Social Security number, or financial information like a bank account, debit card, or credit card number. The scammer will then use your information to steal your identity.
Unexpected Charges on Your Phone Bill
Scammers may connect or direct the caller to another number that is not toll-free, racking up unexpected charges on the monthly phone bill. This technique is commonly referred to as “cramming” a phone bill with charges.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) addresses another aspect of the scam involving collect phone calls or phone calls made from public phones. This scam makes it even easier for fraudsters to rack up charges on a person’s bill, calling card, or credit card.
The scheme involves a person misdialing a toll-free number or using operator assistance to place a collect call. The caller misdials and gets connected to another party. The party answering the call rarely identifies himself or the name of the company he represents. The phone call may connect using another carrier, incurring charges to the caller. Unbeknownst to the caller, the phony toll-free call charges for service, or the collect call incurs exorbitant fees.
Check and Recheck the Phone Number You're Dialing
Always double-check the number before dialing. If you feel you’ve made a mistake, hang up and try again.
The most important thing you need to do when trying to avoid this type of scam is to check and recheck the number before dialing it. If you neglect to verify the toll-free number you are calling, it could make you a victim of this scam. If you may have dialed the wrong number, pay attention to the type of information requested. If the information seems unnecessary or sensitive, hang up, recheck the number, and dial again.
When making toll-free calls, dial carefully. Make sure you hit each number only once. If you’re unsure, hang up, and start again. Once the call is connected, the person answering should announce the company name.
When calling collect, the FCC requires the provider to identify itself before connecting the phone call. If no announcement comes, ask the operator for the carrier’s name and the rate for the call. If you do not hear an announcement or have an option to speak to the operator, hang up. The same goes for receiving a collect call. If you don’t recognize the provider, ask for the call rate. If no rate is provided, hang up.
It's also important to pay close attention to any websites set up for a massive recall or emails that you receive. Phone scammers will create websites with similar URLs to the manufacturer's recall site, they’ll also launch email campaigns with scam phone numbers in them. Don’t trust any website that has a different company domain name in the URL. The recall site’s domain name should match the company. If you receive emails, don’t click any links or call any numbers before closely reading the email. Check for spelling mistakes and strange formatting. A quick Google search can also confirm or deny a scam, when in doubt.
Review Your Phone Bill & Report Any Scams
You should review your phone bill each month. If you find that a toll-free number you misdialed led to a potentially fraudulent charge or stolen identity, address any discrepancies directly with your phone company. If the issue cannot be resolved, file a complaint online with the FCC and your state's Office of the Attorney General.
You can also help spread the word about these scams by reporting fraudulent toll-free numbers in our community phone book. You can trace a toll-free number using our free reverse phone lookup website or caller ID app for iPhone.