Dear Lifehacker, I’m becoming increasingly paranoid about the phone calls I receive, even from companies I do have accounts and services with. I recently had a call from my internet provider and they asked me to confirm my identity. What should I do under these circumstances?
In this case, they asked me for my date of birth and address. I politely declined and informed them before I can give them that information they need them to prove they are in fact my service provider. I asked them to tell me my account number or at least partial digits of it. They were unable to tell me this information without me first proving who I was. So after this there was silence for 15 seconds and I suggested they email or write to me if there was an issue.
Was there any other way to resolve this issue? How can I get the companies I hold accounts with to prove they are who they say they are?
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You’re right to be cautious. Scam calls are rife. Even though there was a major bust of one operation responsible for fake Microsoft support calls last month, that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away. We’ve had reports from readers that similar calls are still coming in.
While asking for your account number seems like a reasonable method of verification, we don’t recommend it. Systems get hacked and account details leak.
For incoming calls claiming to be from your phone company, bank, electricity provider or any other organisation, the best approach is the simplest: don’t give out any personal information whatsoever, and don’t ask them to prove their identity either. Instead, ask them for a phone number you can call back on, and a reference number if they’re calling about a specific issue. If the call is genuinely from your provider, they will definitely be able to provide the phone number, and chances are there will also be a reference number.
If they don’t want to provide a number to call back on, don’t waste time on the conversation. Simply hang up. The caller will either be a scammer or a third-party sales organisation whose only aim is to sell you other products or upgrades (in which case the caller doesn’t want whoever answers the phone getting commission). Either way, you don’t need to waste time on them.
If you are provided with a phone number, don’t call back straight away. Go online and check if that’s actually a phone number associated with the organisation. A simple Google search will often suffice. If you have any doubts at all, go direct to the relevant company web site and look up the general contact number, and use that instead.
If you’ve made the call yourself, supplying details to confirm your identity shouldn’t be a risk. For an incoming call, it’s something you should never do.
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