(NEXSTAR) — Your phone rings. Or more likely, it vibrates. You look at the screen and it’s not your mom calling. It’s not your best friend. It’s an unknown number from a faraway area code. Or it’s exactly your area code and a phone number that looks creepily similar to yours. Or maybe your cell carrier flashes up a warning, like “scam likely.”
If you don’t know who’s calling, is there any reason to pick up the phone?
We turned to an authority on the subject: Steven Carlson at T-Mobile, an expert on the company’s Scam Shield program.
“There’s really a very little upside to answering a call that says ‘scam likely,'” Carlson said.
“The types of tools that T-Mobile uses to detect scam calls when they enter our network are really sophisticated,” Carlson explained. The network’s database of flagged scam numbers updates every six minutes, he said. Plus, they detect callers that are spoofing other phone numbers, or callers that are sending out lots of calls, but not getting much in return.
There’s a small chance it’s a legitimate robocall that got mistaken for a scammer, Carlson admitted. But even if it is your kid’s school calling to announce a snow day or your doctor reminding you about your appointment tomorrow, they could always leave a message. Oftentimes, they also have the technology to reach you with an automated text message.
When you pick up the phone and it’s a scammer, “you’re basically confirming that someone else is alive on the other end and this is a legitimate phone number,” Carlson said.
In some cases, scammers are targeting a specific geographic area where they’ve seen success before. In other cases, they’re just mass-dialing random numbers and seeing if anyone picks up.
“Because the scammers are using these auto-dialers and this technology that just randomly picks phone numbers and pushes [calls] out … if you’re answering the phone, you’re saying this is a real person here and this number is right, so you should therefore continue to try it.”
That could lead to being inundated with even more scam calls.
You could also keep your phone from ringing so often by automatically sending unknown numbers to voicemail. Apple and Google both have settings you can enable on their devices that silence or block unknown callers.
When it comes to scam texts, the same basic advice applies: Just delete it and move on.