The Most Common Mobile Phone Scams & How to Avoid Them

by - Last Updated on March 22, 2019

As smartphone technology continues to evolve, it also paves the way for an increasing amount of mobile phone scams. These scams can cost their victims anywhere in the range of just a few pounds to their whole life savings. As using these devices becomes a more integral part of our daily lives, it’s important to be aware of the different types of mobile scams and how to avoid them. Here’s a look at some of the most common mobile phone scams.

Common Types Of Mobile Scams

Common Types Of Mobile Scams

Subscriber Fraud

It occurs when someone gains access to your personal information and opens a mobile phone account in your name. The culprit can rack up a large bill before the victim even realises what is going on. Once discovered, it can take an even longer time to prove the fact that the victim didn’t open the account themselves. Any debts incurred can take a long time to clear.

To avoid this happening to you, take appropriate steps to avoid your identity from being stolen. This extends to any of your personal information as well. If you think you’ve been a victim of subscriber fraud contact your mobile phone carrier. According to the FCC, subscriber fraud costs mobile phone companies more than £100 million each year.

Stolen Phones

They accounted for 442,000 thefts in the UK in 2015. If a stolen or lost phone winds up in the wrong hands it can be used to make unauthorised calls. The criminals could also gain access to personal information saved on the mobile phone, such as saved bank account information, which could be used to make purchases on the phone.

To avoid losing or having your phone stolen, try to keep it in the same spot on you whenever you are out so you don’t lose track of it. Make sure to use a secure passcode so the thief cannot gain access to your information. Some smartphones come equipped with an app that will help you find your phone in a situation like this. If your smartphone doesn’t have such an app pre-installed, you can download one. If your phone is lost or stolen you can use the app to help you track your phone down. There are also apps that enable you to wipe all the data on your phone remotely when the phone is online.


Cloning occurs when a criminal gains access to your mobile phone number and unique serial number. They use the information to program another phone with the same information. Any calls or data used on the phone will go to your phone bill.

There is not much that can be done to avoid being targeted. Make sure to ask for credentials and return phone numbers from anyone that calls you and asks such information. If you think you are a victim of mobile phone cloning contact your network provider. Your provider may be able to help you figure out which calls were made by you and which were made by the cloned phone. Check with your mobile phone insurance as well. Your insurance policy may cover unauthorised calls.

From 2009 to 2012 there were 1,300 cases of cloning in India alone. Fortunately, technology is continuing to improve and mobile phone companies are making it more difficult for this to take place.

Text Scams

These come in many different forms. The scammer may send you a text that looks like it is from a friend, inviting you to catch up or give them a call. Once you respond to the text message or call them you are charged a high rate for each call and the charges increase by the second.

Another common text scam attempts to make it look like your bank is sending you a text.

The message will notify you that there has been fraudulent activity on your account and prompt you to visit a website or call a number. Scammers can gain access to your personal information and bank account information if the website is visited or phone number is called.

To avoid falling for this scam, be cautious of the text messages you respond to. Do Not respond to the numbers that are suggested to you. Instead, call your network provider’s support helpline or bank and ask them if the claims made are true and supply them with the numbers you have been provided with.

One-ring Scams

This scam starts with one of those annoying calls from an unknown number that only rings once. The scammers hope that you will call back when you see the missed call. Once you do call back you will be charged a $US19.95 connection fee (and possible further UK conversion and connection charges) as well as per-minute fees of at least $US9. These scams usually originate in the Caribbean. Some of the area codes that have been used in these scams are 268, 809, 876, 284, and 473.

If you get a call from a number you don’t recognise and it only rings once, don’t call back! If you have fallen for this scam keep an eye on your bill and contact your carrier.

Recorded Message Scams

These scams are similar to one-ring scams. Instead of leaving a missed call, you will receive a voicemail that prompts you to call back for more information on a prize you have won. When you call back you will be charged exorbitant fees similar to the one-ring scams, and the prize will likely be a scam as well.

If you receive a voicemail prompting you to call back to hear more about your prize, don’t call back.

Phone Insurance Scams

These usually occur after a new mobile phone has recently been purchased. Scammers will call claiming to be associated with the company from where you purchased your phone. They will then offer to sell you insurance for it. Worst-case scenario, you won’t actually get any phone insurance.

Always ask for credentials including a return phone number. Never disclose any financial or even identifying information over the phone, especially when it is not you that has initiated the call.

Ransomware Scams

These are exactly what they sound like, scammers will hold your phone ransom until they receive a payment. While surfing the web on your mobile phone your phone will freeze then a screen will appear. You will see an official-looking message claiming that your phone is frozen due to a violation of laws. In order to use your phone again, you will have to pay a “fine” that will need to be deposited into a debit account.

To avoid this happening to you, be careful of what you download on your phone and only download apps from your phone’s branded app store. Avoid downloading apps directly from sites that bypass the phone’s apps store. When using public Wi-Fi avoid accessing your bank accounts and other important personal accounts. Public Wi-Fi has reduced security to enable public access and is, therefore, the most vulnerable to a hacking attempt.

Don’t Become a Victim

Don't Become A Victim

Most scams do not involve hacking or compromising your security settings, instead, the scammers rely on people readily giving up identifying information. By changing just a few of your everyday habits you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a mobile scam.

Use Authorised Apps

Some of the most important things to remember revolve around accessing your bank account information. When accessing online banking, you should only do it via your bank’s official app or website. Make sure not to store any of your personal information, bank account information, or PIN numbers on your mobile phone, and never share this information via text message or email. If your phone is stolen, the thief will have access to all of this information if they can log into your phone and pass the log screen.  When downloading an app, whether it’s for banking or a game, make sure to only download apps from official stores like Apple’s App Store or the Android Market.

Be Wary Of Unfamiliar Callers

Another habit to change is your response to unknown numbers. If you receive a call or text from a number you don’t recognise, don’t respond, especially if they are prompting you to take action or requesting personal, financial or identifying information.

Get Familiar With Your Phone’s Security Settings

Simply becoming more knowledgeable about your phone, its operating system, its capabilities and vulnerabilities, along with the items on your bill, will make you less vulnerable to becoming a victim. All smartphones have security settings that can be adjusted and set to keep your personal information safe. Apple has been paying particular attention to this in iOS 11 on the new iPhone 8 and Android has a number of ways to add further layers of security.

Use Pins and Passwords

Always use a passcode to lock the screen on your phone so that others cannot gain easy access to personal information. Newer devices like the iPhone carry a fingerprint scanner and it's recommended to use this feature. You can also activate inbuilt or downloaded phone-tracking apps. These can be turned on remotely, from another device like your laptop, and can help you track your device if it is lost or stolen.

Keep On Top Of System Updates

Keep an eye out for your phone’s latest operating system update. Each update may offer more security settings for your mobile phone and resolve known vulnerabilities. When it comes to your bill, make sure to give it a thorough examination before making payment. Ensure that there are no unauthorised calls, texts, or data usage on the bill. Even if you are unsure about a particular item on your bill, it is best to err on the side of caution and to notify the carrier.

Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Precautions

With Wi-Fi hotspots and unlimited data plans, we are always connected, allowing others to easily access our information. When you are in public places try to avoid entering passwords or PIN numbers into your phone. A nearby stranger on the subway can easily see what you are doing and gain access to your accounts.

Disposing Of Your Phone

If you ever decide to sell or dispose of your mobile phone or other types of mobile device, make sure to reset the device back to factory settings. Remove any additional memory storage cards like MicroSD card. Double check to make sure that all of your personal information and data has been removed so the next owner does not have access to it.

Being more aware of security vulnerabilities, actively bolstering your security settings and becoming familiar with the kind of scams that are circulating will all decrease your chances of becoming a victim.

If You Fall Victim

If You Fall Victim

If you feel you have become the victim of a mobile phone scam, it’s important to notify the phone provider and the official authorities. Even if it’s minor, there may be others that have fallen victim to the same scam. Your knowledge of the scam may help the officials find the scammers and prevent others from being scammed as well.

The first call to make is to your mobile phone network provider. Let them know that you are the victim of a mobile phone scam and that you would like to take the next steps to ensure that you do not end up footing the bill.

The next call you should make is to the official authorities. You can report the scam to Action Fraud online at or call them at 0300-123-2040. You can also report the scam to PhonePayPlus online at

76% of adults in Britain own mobile phones, most of which have their phones with them at all times. Since we have the ability to be connected 24/7, we open ourselves up to the opportunity to be scammed. You can lower your chances of being scammed on your mobile phone by being cautious of unknown numbers and taking appropriate actions to keep your personal information private.