(NEXSTAR) – Your phone rings. Or more likely, it vibrates. You look at the screen and it’s not your mother calling you. He’s not your best friend. It’s an unknown number from a distant area code. Or it’s exactly your area code and a phone number that looks suspiciously like yours. Or maybe your mobile carrier is showing a warning, like “likely scam”.
If you don’t know who’s calling, is there any reason to pick up the phone?
We turned to an authority on the matter: Steven Carlson of T-Mobile, an expert in the company’s Scam Shield program.
“There’s really very little benefit to answering a call that says ‘likely scam,'” Carlson said.
“The kinds of tools that T-Mobile uses to detect scam calls as they come into our network are really sophisticated,” Carlson explained. The network’s database of reported scam numbers is updated every six minutes, he said. Additionally, they detect callers who spoof other phone numbers, or callers who send a lot of calls but get little in return.
There’s a slim chance it was a legitimate robocall that was mistaken for a scammer, Carlson admitted. But even if it’s your child’s school calling to announce a snowy day or your doctor reminding you of your appointment tomorrow, they can still leave a message. Often they also have the technology to reach you with an automated text message.
When you pick up the phone and it’s a scammer, “you’re basically confirming that someone else is alive on the other end of the line and that’s a legitimate phone,” Carlson said.
In some cases, scammers target a specific geographic area where they have already been successful. In other cases, they just mass dial random numbers and see if anyone picks up.
“Because scammers use these auto-dialers and this technology that randomly selects phone numbers and pushes them [calls] …if you answer the phone you say this is a real person here and that number is correct so you have to keep trying.
This could lead to being inundated with even more scam calls.
You can also prevent your phone from ringing so often by automatically sending unknown numbers to voicemail. Both Apple and Google have settings you can enable on their devices to silence or block unknown callers.
When it comes to scam texts, the same basic advice applies: just delete it and move on.
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