Are Phone Scammers Ever Caught?

Phone and email scams are on the rise. They increased in 2019 and 2020 when many countries enforced lockdowns and more people were at home and near their phones.

Phone service providers, in conjunction with various global law enforcement agencies, are working hard to catch them.

People frustrated with law enforcement’s perceived lack of action choose to take it upon themselves to try and catch them. A tech-savvy person could begin with a reverse phone lookup and call the number back.

Government agencies worldwide are doing their best to locate and arrest scammers. Then there are the scambaiters, people with advanced tech skills that go after the scammers, almost like vigilantes.

The good news is that some scammers are caught. The INTERPOL’s Operation First Light is a shining example.

Here’s a look at what phone scamming is, what scam baiters do, and INTERPOL’s success in 2020.


How Does Phone Scamming Work?

Phone scamming is where a fraudster pretends to be somebody else and uses the phone to perform social engineering. It’s the practice of using deception to manipulate individuals into willingly offering their confidential or personal information, and these details get used for fraudulent purposes.

These people often target others they believe to be less tech-aware than others, primarily senior citizens.

An example is calling to say that the person’s computer is infected and they need remote access to help fix it. Once they’re in, they steal whatever data they can.

Another scam includes pretending to be calling from a utility company. They claim that they’ll disconnect a service if a payment isn’t made in the next 30 minutes. A fake account is provided, and they take off with the funds.


Scambaiters to the Rescue

A scambaiter is a type of vigilante who scams the world’s scammers. They do this by responding positively to the scammer, wasting their time, or recording the exchange to post on social media.

Some scambaiters claim they’re doing this as a knowledge boost for the uneducated. And this appears true. There are numerous YouTube channels dedicated to showing how scammers operate and how to turn the tables on them.

Others have used their powers for good. Northern Ireland YouTube star and part-time scambaiter Jim Browning partnered with BBC’s Panorama and helped to bring down an entire call center in India.


INTERPOL – Operation First Light

In 2020 INTERPOL created Operation First Light, a year-long investigation into worldwide call center scams.

Thirty-five countries participated in a coordinated crackdown on social engineering scams performed by organized crime groups.

The project concluded in November 2020 with excellent results:

  • Raidings: 10,380 locations
  • Arrests: 21,549 operators, fraudsters, and money launderers
  • Money recovered: USD 153 973 709 worth of illicit funds


How to Avoid Being Scammed

There are things to be on the lookout for to avoid being a victim of social engineering.

Not all, but a large majority of these scams are conducted from overseas. Avoid answering calls with a + before the number, as it’s an international call.

Internet and phone service provider staff will never cold call a customer asking for username and password details. If a local phone number comes up, note it down. Tell the caller that they’ll get a callback. Then call the provider’s published number and ask if the call is legitimate.

If it turns out that the call was a scam, give the provider the number the call originated from. They have processes in place to take affirmative action.

Anybody asking for remote access to a computer is attempting to hack into another person’s data. Unless a call has been placed explicitly to a computer security company, there would never be a reason to allow another person to access a computer.


Phone Scammers Will Get Caught

Despite the increase in scamming, public awareness has also risen, and people are learning to be more vigilant.

Scambaiters are doing their part to educate people about these practices, and YouTube is an excellent source of live examples.

International agencies like INTERPOL are seeing successes in their operations and are continuing to lead the fight.

Everyone can do their part by being aware that scamming exists and learning how to avoid being taken advantage of.