Ever receive a phone call from an unknown number and wonder whether you should answer it? With number spoofing and robocalls on the rise, it’s getting harder for consumers to know when a call is from a legitimate person or business. This means learning how to check if a phone number is real may help you better figure out whether to answer your phone the next time you get a call from an unknown caller.
The rise of ‘fake’ phone numbers
More telemarketers and fraudsters use techniques such as caller ID spoofing to mask their number. That way, it appears as though the call is from a local number, making it all the more likely you might be tempted to pick up.
“The goal is for you to listen to their scam with the hope you’ll become their next victim,” said Mark McCoy, director or Reverd, a spam call complaint app. “Sadly, the scammer is able to earn a decent wage this way.”
Unfortunately, robocallers and nuisance phone calls are already a major problem in the U.S. First Orion, a network enterprise company, estimates that consumers and businesses get more than 100 billion unwanted calls from scammers every year. That doesn’t include an additional 30 billion calls from telemarketers. In fact, the company predicts nearly 50% of phone calls consumers receive this year will be fraudulent.
In many cases, nuisance phone calls waste a few minutes of your time, but for others it can result in a loss of money. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported losses totaling $1.48 billion in 2018 to fraud (though not all were attributed to robocallers).
In one recent case, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Florida resident Adrian Abramovich $120 million for making nearly 100 million robocalls to advertise fraudulent vacations and timeshares.
But there is little the FCC can do to combat international robocallers and scammers who target U.S. consumers.
How to try and find out if a phone number is from a real person
Stopping scam calls may not be possible, but you can lessen the number of unwanted calls by not answering calls from unknown numbers. There are also ways you can check to try to see if the phone number is real before deciding whether to return the call.
- Look it up on social media. Many businesses will have an active social media profile. For example, a company’s Facebook page will likely include an address and phone number. At the very least, you should be able to see the business’s website to better determine whether it looks legitimate.
- Use an online search engine. Sometimes an online search may yield the results you’re looking for. If it’s a legitimate phone number, the name of the business will usually show up as the first result in a Google search.
- Conduct a reverse phone lookup. When you enter an unknown phone number into a reverse phone lookup tool, the service will try to find the person and any other details associated with that number. If no results turn up, that could be a sign the number is spoofed.
- Download an app. There are legitimate apps for both Android and iPhone you can use to help reveal an incoming phone number. Unlike caller ID, these apps usually display the type of phone number (landline or cellphone) and whether the number is likely from a spam caller.
- Use a **phone validator**. This tool allows you to type in a phone number to see how likely it is a spam caller. In some cases, you may be able to see additional details, such as the location and name that’s associated with the phone number.
The bottom line
While robocallers and phone scammers aren’t going away anytime soon, there are tools and services you can use to better combat nuisance callers. And if you do find yourself on the receiving end of a suspicious call asking for money or personal information, simply hang up and don’t give the caller any details.