Today, we’ll discuss the most common types of mobile scams out there as well as the ways you can prevent and fight them
Today, mobile phones have become an inalienable accessory for over 66% of the world’s population. Around 5.2 billion people around the globe use mobiles now, while the number of mobile devices sold is almost three times higher – 14 billion. Mobile phones have long outgrown their initial function of short- and long-distance calls.
They’ve become “smart” – handling our finances, providing instant personal and business communication, streaming our favorite music and films, serving as e-readers and game consoles, remotely controlling various objects in IoT, tracking our health and sleep, reminding us of important duties and chores, and providing hours of endless browsing 24/7. With all those functions, phones contain an incredible amount of personal data. And that, my friends, is incredibly fertile soil for scammers of all kinds.
This type of fraud is sometimes confused with a “bad debt”. It presumes someone obtaining your customer information needs to sign up for a new telecom service contract. Fraudsters can then authorize a subscription plan under your name and use it. Of course, they aren’t planning to pay. Guess who will get charged for that? If that isn’t enough, this illegally obtained account may be used for getting premium rate services, sending out fraudulent texts, or calling people with criminal intentions. Moreover, impersonators can get access to mobile banking apps using your personal data.
Operators globally estimate that nearly 40% of all bad debts are actually subscription fraud. Therefore, they are increasingly looking for solutions that integrate various authentication methods, AI, and enhanced document verification algorithms. On the customer side, there’s not much you can do except providing your personal documents only when it’s absolutely necessary. For instance, there’s a possibility of choosing a SIM-only mobile plan in some countries. If you ever become a victim of subscription fraud, contact your mobile phone carrier immediately.
It’s estimated that 70 million smartphones are lost or stolen each year, with only 7% recovered. In the UK alone, over 329,000 people had their mobile phones stolen in 2018-2019. The most popular models among thieves are the latest iPhone versions and Samsung S8/S9. However, other devices are also under threat. The reason is quite simple. Almost everybody owns a cell phone, and we have them out all the time. Whether for listening to music, watching a video, chatting, or browsing social networks – people get their phones out in public places where they stay on the display of potential thieves for a long time. We are so used to our phones’ company that we forget about precautions. Surely, nobody would take out their wallet in a public place and carry it in their hands for hours. Yet we do the same with our phones, forgetting how much they’re worth. And I’m not only talking about the price. Smartphones are the storage of even more precious personal and banking data.
To avoid losing or having your phone stolen, try to keep it in the same spot on you whenever you are out, so you don’t lose track of it. Don’t take it out all the time when you’re in a crowded place. Some funny memes can wait until you’re in a safer environment. Make sure to use strong passwords or better biometric authentication both for unlocking your phone and for your banking apps, email, etc. Do not use the same password on every occasion.
There’s a number of free tracking apps that use GPS and network connections to find your phone. You can install one just in case the mobile phone ever gets stolen, although some models would already have it pre-installed. Moreover, additional apps can enable you to wipe all the data on your phone remotely when the phone is online. Back up your important data and media. Selecting a carrier-neutral source, such as iCloud, Google+, or OneDrive will make it easier to retrieve your precious memories whatever your next phone will be.
When we speak about cloning, we should distinguish between “cloning” a phone’s data – when spy apps are used to get access to the photos, texts, and calls of another device – and totally illegal phone cloning.
Phone cloning occurs when a criminal gains access to your mobile phone number and a unique serial number. They use the information to program another phone with the same information. As a result, while calls can be made from both phones, only the original is billed. Generally, phone cloning is done by specialized software. These cloned phones may become convenient devices for criminals to use because they are harder to trace.
Another variant of an illegal phone copy is SIM hijacking. Hackers who have access to stolen phone numbers call up carriers and impersonate account holders to get a new SIM under the same number. This method doesn’t need technical skills. It relies on social engineering tactics to find out personal information that carriers use to authenticate customer accounts, but it also helps in gaining control over someone’s phone service.
In theory, cloned mobile phones can be detected by computer monitoring of call patterns where the software ‘flags’ unusual call patterns, allowing the legitimate user to be contacted and, if necessary, given a new phone number. In practice, the cloning scenario is usually revealed only after the victim gets a phone bill and realizes something’s wrong there. If you suspect cloning has occurred, please contact your network provider. Check with your mobile phone insurance as well. It may cover unauthorized calls.
Text and сhat scams
Some scammer may send you a text that looks like it is from a friend, inviting you to give them a call or text back. Once you respond to the text message or call them you are charged at a high rate. Other variants of the text scams are promises of free prizes or coupons; victories in the contests you’ve never participated in; donation requests, and so on. In light of the early Covid-19 panic, scammers got very resourceful with the topics of their messages. Besides, many messages with a link included may install harmful malware on your phone that steals your personal information without you realizing it.
The text and chat messages may also be designed as if they come from your bank. The message will notify you about the fraudulent activity on your account and prompt you to visit a website or call a number. They can even send you a fake invoice and give contacts to call if you didn’t authorize the purchase. Scammers can then gain access to your personal information and bank account information since you’ll need to provide some sensitive details to handle the so-called fraud situation. “Bank” messages may also offer low or no interest credit cards, loans, etc.
The key here is to never open the given links or tap on the contacts included. If you should contact your bank, choose a verified trusted website, in-chat app, or a call-center number you’ve already used and are familiar with. Report the issue and find out whether it’s true or not. Remember that bank employees never ask for your personal bank details like card number, CVV, password, PIN, and OTP.
One-ring and recorded message scams
The usual scenario is you get a call from an unknown number that only rings once. Sometimes the rings come in the middle of the night to catch you even more unaware. You see the missed call and call back. Then you risk being charged exorbitant fees. Or else, you get a recorded message on your voicemail asking you to call back. The outcome is the same. Usually, these callers are situated abroad, so you will get charged for an international call. Moreover, you may get welcomed by a recorded voice message that you can listen to for a while. The longer you’re on the line, the higher the charges are. The bottom line is – don’t call back to unknown numbers. If it’s something really important, the person will try to reach you more than once and by various means (e.g. leaving a detailed message).
Phone insurance scams
When you buy a new mobile phone, you may get a call from the company from where you purchased it with an insurance offer. Beware of scammers. Never disclose any financial or identifying information over the phone, especially when it is not you that has initiated the call. Better contact the company yourself to find out if the offer is legitimate. However, usually, you should receive all the additional info at the time of buying.
You’re surfing the web on your smartphone, and all of a sudden it unexpectedly freezes and a notification screen appears. You will see an official-looking message claiming that your phone is blocked due to a violation of laws. In order to use your phone again, you will have to pay a “fine” that will need to be deposited into a debit account. Don’t do that. There’s no guarantee the cyber-criminals will actually unlock your phone. File a complaint with the proper authorities instead.