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Woman holding a mobile phone with an incoming call from an unknown caller, poised to hang up for data safety

SCIENCE & TECH: Have you answered a spam call by accident? Your next move is extremely important

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Zip your lip.

Let’s say you pick up a spam call without realizing it — your first instinct might be to tell off the scam artist on the other end.

Just don’t, experts urge.

Charlotte Vogel, an operations research analyst, is one of those experts — she recently confabbed with Quora users on the subject, warning them against engaging with a potential scammer in any way.


The best approach to keep your data safe is to not speak at all — just hang up. ronstik – stock.adobe.com

That’s because you could accidentally reveal more personal details about yourself than the joker on the other end of the line already has — which will likely put you at even greater risk.

“I think you should never engage with scammers because when you do, you’ve just confirmed two pieces of information for the scammers — [they’ve] called a working phone number and you’ll answer the phone,” she said.

The best approach is to simply hang up rather than attempt to be the voice of reason — or irritation — which could “result in you giving out sensitive information about yourself.”

“Remember that identity theft isn’t just about getting money out of you one time or stealing a tax refund check, it’s an entire industry,” she noted.

A database of your information is slowly being pieced together by malicious actors, “stored, repackaged and sold from one scammer to the next.” By offering up more information — even by simply answering the phone — that faux pas is “valuable to scammers who might try it again later” and “sell your number to the highest bidder,” she said.

“It may be tempting to bring out the big guns like, ‘I’ll get you, I’m a lawyer’ or ‘How dare you, my dad is a cop’ or ‘Just wait until my Army husband, Bill, gets home,’” Vogel continued. “But think about what you’ve just said. Yes, more information about yourself.”


Smartphone displaying an incoming call from an unknown caller, indicating possible scam or spam.
“Those additional nuggets are helping form your profile,” she wrote. ronstik – stock.adobe.com

You might also slip up and say “stop calling my house” or “don’t call me at work,” she added, which just gives scammers more information.

Even if they don’t request money from you, merely confirming personal details like a phone number, address or even Social Security number gives criminals more ammunition.

“Those additional nuggets are helping form your profile. Pieces of data are matched to other data,” Vogel said.

“Suddenly, you’re no longer just a random phone number. You’re Jane Smith, SSN 123-45-6789. You’re a lawyer, and your dad is a cop. You live at 123 Elm Street, Anytown, USA 12345 (since that address matches your phone number). Your spouse’s name is Bill, and he works for the government.”

All they have to do is match the existing data they have — whether gleaned from social media profiles or a recent hack — to the information you just gave up, and you’re all the more at risk.

Not to mention, hackers are likely unbothered by your anger.

“Understand that these people are thieves. They are preying on vulnerable people — typically the elderly, students, and immigrants -—who they feel they can bully,” she wrote online, adding that they are attempting to “scare” victims into giving up money or sensitive information.

“These are not nice people. Your threats, bad language, telling them off? They’ve likely heard and said worse. You’re not fazing them one bit. Don’t waste your time.”



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