Scam starts with a phone call from no one

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Everyone, at one time or another, has received a scam robocall purportedly from “Rachel of Card Services” offering to reduce your credit card interest rate. But all Rachel really is interested in doing is stealing your identity or scamming you out of money.

By now, most people know these robocalls are illegal, and we are immediately skeptical when answering such a call.

But what happens when you receive a phone call and it appears no one is on the other end of the line? Is that a scam, too?

Implications of a dead-line call

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. These calls are automated from the computers of a scam artist, the only criminal we refer to as an artist. Using computers to make telephone calls enables scammers to cheaply call large numbers of people.

Just like the burglar who scouts a neighborhood to determine which houses to target, the scammers are testing phone numbers — a list of which they may have bought from other criminals — to find active numbers worthy of pursuing with either live-person scam calls or robocalls.

So if you answer one of these phone calls from no one, you can expect it to be followed sometime later by a call from a live scammer or a robocall. That call will be an inducement to get you to provide personal information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft or otherwise scam you out of money.

Beware of ‘spoofing’

Scammers also prey upon fear and will often call you pretending to be from a legitimate entity such as your bank to tell you that there has been a problem with your account and that they need to confirm information immediately. Compounding the problem is that through a technique called “spoofing,” scammers can fool your Caller ID so that the call appears to have actually come from your bank, the IRS or some other legitimate source.

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.

Whenever you receive a telephone call, you can never be sure who is really on the other end of the line. It is, however, easy to determine if it is the IRS calling you. The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by phone or email. If an issue arises, you will receive an old-fashioned, snail mail letter.

However, your bank may call you if there is a problem with your account, so if you do get such a call, the best thing to do is hang up and call your bank at a telephone number that you know is accurate to find out if the call was legitimate.

Think you’ve been fooled by one of these scammers? Grab your free credit report from myBankrate to check for unauthorized credit lines.

Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, author of “Identity Theft Alert” and editor of the blog