It happens all the time. You answer a call from an unknown number and say, "Hello?" but no one is there. In fact, there's nothing but silence for several moments. That silence is a computer gathering information about you.

The Federal Trade Commission says robo-calls are the number one consumer complaint they receive, and these types of calls are on the rise. Experts warn that this kind of call is an early step in a phone fraud scheme that can lead to identity theft. Here's how it works.

WJBQ.com
  1. Your phone rings with an out of state or 1-800 number and you answer, "Hello?"
  2. The call stays silent. Any noise from your end of the phone signals that your phone number is an active line. Even a cough can trigger the caller to record your phone number as an active line.
  3. Once your number is confirmed as active, it is sold to criminal rings.
  4. The criminal rings will call or leave messages, asking you to call a 1-877 number which prompts you to provide personal information.
  5. The personal information is used to check your bank account balances and change your account address so fraudsters can control your account.

If you call the 1-877 number from a different number or have the police call, the message will say the number is deactivated, making it difficult to catch the fraudsters.

According to the FTC, the best way to protect your information is to hang up, don't press any numbers, block the number, and report it to FTC.gov.

Bottom line, these types of calls are illegal. Protect yourself and your identity.