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How a Silent Phone Call Could Lead to Identity Theft

If you receive a phone call with just silence on the other end of the line, there's a chance it could be part of a scam to collect information about you to attempt to steal your identity.

Robocalls are abundant, in part, because Internet-powered phone systems are making it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, while disguising their own identity by displaying fake caller ID information.

These scammers can get your phone number from a variety of methods, ranging from a data breach at a retailer to a contest that you entered to win a prize.

Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO of Pindrop Security, a company in Atlanta that detects phone fraud, told NPR that fraudsters often attempt making calls without intending to ever speak, just to verify that they have a correct phone number with a real person at the other end.

During a second call, the fraudster could call back and try to collect personal information. For example, the next call from the same person could involve a prerecorded message about, say, an important message about your credit card account, in which you'll be prompted to verify personal data such as your date of birth, card number, expiration date and Social Security number.

Then, the fraudster will call your financial institution pretending to be you, and will ask a general question, such as: "I was just checking on what my credit limit is," to be sure the account is legitimate and worth pursuing.

Although it might be difficult for the average person to know if the initial silent call is trying to target them as a potential victim, there are some clues that larger financial institutions can pick up on to try to stop fraudulent behavior. If the caller is claiming to be from New York, for example, but the phone number is coming from another country, it could signal that the call is suspicious.

As for the average person, the FTC offers this advice: “If you get a robocall, hang up the phone.”

Editor’s note: This content was lightly edited and updated on Jan. 24, 2018.

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