Information provided by Gabe L., Smithville’s Director of Information Security
The idea of scams involving fat finger dialing is not new. These scams rely on inattentiveness and innocent mistakes. They prey on accidentally switching digits while dialing a number.
Typically, you quickly know if you misdialed a number. You hear the voice of a person you don’t recognize answer the phone, or you get notified that “the call cannot be completed as dialed.” However, when dialing a toll-free number, this doesn’t happen.
According to the Federal Communication Commission, toll-free numbers are “telephone numbers with distinct three-digit codes that can be dialed from landlines with no charge to the person placing the call. Such numbers allow callers to reach businesses and individuals out of the area without being charged a long-distance fee for the call.”
The most common prefixes for toll-free telephone numbers are 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833.
Businesses utilize toll-free numbers to provide customers an easy and accessible way to call them.
Fat finger dialing scams work as follows: You go online to look up the number to your bank. While entering the bank’s phone number into your phone, for example, 111-111-1112, you instead accidentally enter 111-111-1121 and instruct your phone to call. After a few rings, you expect to hear a greeting from your bank. Instead, you are told that you have been selected for a survey, are eligible for a low-cost medical device, a subscription of some sort, or have won a vacation reward.
You think you are talking to your bank. Unbeknownst to you, you called a fraudster.
As you continue to follow their prompt, the fraudsters will ask you to enter a credit card number or your bank account to claim the “promotion.” Often, they will enroll you in automatic payments that will charge you monthly. They may even share your personal information, leading to a heightened risk of identity theft.
How does this happen?
As anyone can purchase a toll-free number, fraudsters will typically locate commonly used toll-free numbers of banks, financial institutions, retail services, businesses, insurance companies, government offices, the Social Security Administration, and more. The fraudsters will then register a phone number similar to those companies, often switching a number around within the phone number. No business utilizing toll-free numbers is immune to this fraud, not even Smithville.
The worst part?
As long as companies do not misrepresent themselves and disclose the details of the promotions, this tactic is completely legal.
What can you do to protect yourself from fat finger dialing scams?
Consumers can protect themselves from falling into fat finger dialing scams by verifying that they have correctly typed the intended recipient’s phone number and verbally confirming that they have reached the company they called. For example, if you tried to reach Smithville and the party on the other line will not verify they are representatives of Smithville, hang up the phone.
Remember—if at any time during a phone call you believe something feels off, hang up the call. Trust your instincts.
And if you do find yourself talking to a telemarketer scammer? Don’t be afraid to hang up the call.