If you have not yet been the victim of a vishing attack, count yourself lucky.
The technological evolution we are all experiencing and leveraging in our day-to-day lives is for the most part wonderful and beneficial – but unfortunately, there are some bad actors out there including hackers, fraudsters, scammers and thieves of every variety who are using the wonderful technology we all use in order to find new and sophisticated ways of gaining access to other people’s personal information online as well as over the phone.
In this article, we are specifically going to discuss the practice of vishing and vishing attacks. In brief, vishing attacks are phone calls where a scammer attempts to lure their victim to reveal crucial personal details that could give them access to – and empty out – the victim’s bank accounts. And that’s just for starters.
This article covers a lot of ground. First, we are going to discuss what vishing is and how vishing attackers can get hold of your personal information in order to contact you and establish a rapport with ill intent. We are also going to look at what you can do to prevent vishing, as well as walk you through how to deal with a vishing attack if you ever find yourself the intended victim of one.
Without future ado, here is everything you need to know to be able to defend yourself against vishing phone calls.
What vishing is and why cyber criminals do it
Vishing scams, also referred to as voice phishing scams, are phone calls where the cyber criminal at the other end of the line attempts to get their intended victim to divulge sensitive personal information that they normally would not disclose over the phone.
Cyber criminals are often very well practiced at making vishing calls and may sound both professional and reassuring, or they use automated voice simulation technology in order to pass themselves off as a legitimate call. Often, these cyber criminals claim to be representatives of trusted and well-known institutions, knowing that most people are unlikely to question a phone call from the Social Security Administration, the IRS (the Internal Revenue Service), or even the financial institution they are banking with.
If the attack is successful and the victim gives the cyber criminals the personal information they are after, the criminals are then likely to use this information to make illicit financial transactions from the victim’s bank account, to gain access to the victim’s computer, or even for identity theft purposes.
Because vishers are often well-rehearsed and experienced cyber criminals, and because they use sophisticated technology that makes them difficult if not impossible for law enforcement to track them down, they often evade capture. In other words, the best way to protect your identity, your money and your sanity from vishers is to not fall for their insidious scam activity in the first place.
Becoming wise to the ways of vishers starts with understanding how they operate and what tricks are up their sleeves when it comes to tricking their victims, as well as avoiding detection and persecution by law enforcement.
Wardialling vishing attacks are the most common vishing scams. If you have already found yourself on the receiving end of a vishing attack, there is a good chance that it was a war dialling vishing attack.
A wardialling vishing attack starts with the cyber criminals sending out automated voice messages to literally thousands of potential victim’s phones all at once. Wardialling vishers use the local area code and the names of legitimate organizations and institutions in order to get to their victims. Typically, in the automated message you receive, the caller claims to be a government representative or some other kind of authority figure that you are likely to trust and respect.
The purpose of these automated messages is always the same; to get the intended victim to call back and speak to the visher in person. Once you are on the phone with the visher, they will do everything in their power to try to convince you to give them your sensitive personal data.
Spear vishing attacks are less common than wardialling – but they are much more insidious.
In spear vishing, the cyber criminals identify potential targets and go after them specifically – pointedly, you might say – rather than taking the scattergun approach that characterises wardialling. When spear vishers go after a large target – usually this means a wealthy target – it is called whaling phishing.
Sometimes, spear vishing cyber criminals lie in wait for years, slowly gathering what information they can on their intended victim. This means that when they make contact with you, they already have some information about you. They may, for example, know your name, your address and your landline and mobile phone numbers, as well as some of your credit card account information, your internet search history, and so on. Naturally, this is truly terrifying.
The ways in which spear vishing criminals gather information on you is via online tracking and data harvesting emails, smiting and malware on your devices.
A spear vishing attack can be much harder to spot and to fend off than a wardialling vishing attempt – but they are just as easy to prevent, and later on in this article, we will get into how a VPN can help you shield your personal data from spear vishers.
Signs of a vishing attack
Vishing is a particularly insidious form of phishing scam, and even highly intelligent people can easily find themselves the victims of vishing.
Fortunately, however, there are warning signs that the cyber criminals tend to give off when they are attempting to steal your information over the phone. Here are the most common signs of voice scams:
- The caller claims to represent a government agency or a finial institution, such as the IRS, Medicaid, or the banking society you’re with. For this reason, it is important to know that government agencies and financial institutions do not initiate contact unless you have requested it. In other words, the IRS would never make an unsolicited phone call to your mobile or landline phone numbers.
- There is a frantic sense of urgency. Cyber criminals try to leverage the emotion of fear by instilling a sense of immediacy in you handing over your sensitive personal or financial information. Typical urgency-based phiscing atttempts include the compromised bank account scam and the IRS tax scam. In each of these instances, the scammer is trying to get you to act fast, so that you do not have time to stop and consider whether something about the call is suspicious.
- The caller asks you to confirm your personal sensitive information. The scammer may ask you to comfirm personal, identifying details such as your name, your address, your phone number, your social security number and your bank account details. Of course, what they are really doing is harvesting what personal and sensitive information of yours they don’t already have.
How to prevent vishing scams
Vishing cyber criminals may seem cunning and resourceful, but so are you! Here is an overview over the most effective ways of protecting yourself against vishing attacks.
- Sign up with a top VPN provider. The number one thing you can do to protect your personal information is to sign up with a good VPN provider. A VPN encrypts your personal data so that hackers become unable to harvest and abuse it to contact you with in the first place. VPNs are particularly useful for preventing spear vishing and whaling attacks, which as you will remember are vishing attacks where the cyber criminal has been gathering as much of your personal information as they can, sometimes over the course of years, via malware installed on your devices, emails and online tracking. A VPN effectively stops all of this from happening. Our top recommended VPN providers are CyberGhost, ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
- Know that government agencies and institutions don’t contact you out of the blue. Government agencies and banking societies do not call individuals, unless requested – so if you receive that an unexpected phone call from your bank or the IRS, just hang up.
- Know that caller ID spoofing is a thing. Caller IDs may seem like a reliable indication of who is calling you, but caller IDs can easily be faked. In other words, a caller ID is not enough to tell you who is really calling.
- Stop and think before you act. Vishing attempts often succeed because of the sense if urgency that the scammer manages to instil in their victim – never fall for that. If you receive a call in which the caller asks you to quickly verify any of your sensitive data, never rush to call them back or to divulge anything. Take your time to research who the caller is, and consider verifying the caller by calling the official phone number of the agency that the caller claims represent.
- If you have employees, make sure they receive security awareness training. If you run a business, it is in your best interest to make sure your staff are trained on cyber security so that they, too, become able to spot a vishing attack in case cyber criminals decide to target your business.
Vishing phone calls FAQ
What is a vishing attack?
A vishing attack, also called a voice phishing attack, is a phone call where the cyber criminal will initiate contact with an intended victim and attempt to get them to divulge their personal information over the phone.
More often than not, the cyber criminal behind the vishing scam will claim to be an authority figure of some kind, in order to quickly win the victim’s trust. Vishing scammers may claim to be representatives of well-known financial institutions or government agencies, hoping that their scam victims will not question them but instead blindly trust them when they request personal information that the victim normally wouldn’t give out over the phone.
What is the difference between phishing and vishing?
The simplest way to explain the difference between phishing and vishing is to say that phishing uses email to steal information, while vishing uses phone calls or text messages sent to the victim’s phone.
Ultimately, the goal of both phishing and vishing are one and the same: To eeke out the victim’s personal information, such as their bank account details, social security information or other sensitive, identifying information that the cyber criminals can use for all sorts of nefarious ends including, but not limited to, gaining remote access to the victim’s computer and initiating fraudulent money transfers from the victim’s account.
What is vishing simple?
Simply put, vishing is a form of scam phone call where the scam artist uses clever social engineering techniques to try to get their victim to hand over their personal details, such as their bank account details, social security number, login credentials or other forms of private, sensitive information that the cyber criminal can use and abuse to suit their own ends.
What is vishing and smishing?
Both vishing and smishing are types of phishing attacks where the attacker utilises text messages and voice calls in order to trick the intended victim into divulging sensitive information which might include bank account details, login credentials, social security number and other identifying details.
If you have read this article all the way to the end, there is going to be no doubt in your mind about the fact that becoming the victim of vishing attacks is a fate we should all try to avoid as best we can.
Fortunately, there are some obvious clues that can help you spot and prevent a vishing scam in the making, and there are also actions you can take to prevent cyber criminals from being able to get hold of any of your personal information in the first place. After all, if they don’t have your number, they cannot call you and attempt to lure your account numbers or other private information from you.
The most effective way to prevent vishing attacks is to make your phone number, financial information and other sensitive data inaccessible to cyber criminals by signing up with a reputable VPN provider. A VPN protects your personal information by encrypting all of it when you browse the internet, which is usually where cyber criminals harvest your personal details, such as your phone number or some of your financial information.
There are many great VPN service providers out there, but our top recommendations are CyberGhost, ExpressVPN and NordVPN, all VPNs with stellar reputations and proven track records of providing a brilliant and reliable service. Of course, there are many other great reasons to get yourself signed up with a VPN provider, in addition to having all of your personal information encrypted and thus made inaccessible to cyber criminals. One example is being able to access to geo-locked content from all your favorite streaming platforms Including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. So, what are you waiting for? Do your research, pick your favourite and get yourself signed up with a VPN provider today.
Of course, if you have already been making your way around the internet for a while without a VPN, cyber criminals may already have harvested your data and might be planning a vishing attack on you at this very moment – but at least, thanks to everything you have learned by reading this article, you will know how to spot and avert a vishing scam in the making.