In 2019 individuals and households in the United States lost more than 10.5 BILLION dollars in phone scams. Unfortunately, I have to admit that my household fell prey to one of those scams. I want to pass on the lessons we learned and some tips for your parents and you to protect yourself against phone scams.
While phone scams initially slowed down at the start of COVID (because call centers were closed), they have now picked up and are going full steam. Scammers are making up for lost time by adding in new coronavirus scams. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission reported that younger people (20 to 29 years) were more likely to lose money to a scammer than older people (70 to 79 years). However, when older people lost money, they lost more of it ($800) than younger people ($448). We all need to be aware of the characteristics of this insidious crime so we can avoid being victims of it.
These are the more common phone scams
You know those calls that you get where they promise you lower interest rates or there is a problem with your credit cards. The one we have been getting lately is someone trying to sell us a car warranty on a vehicle we bought a couple of years ago.
These are scammers who impersonate someone from the IRS or Social Security. The IRS scams may threaten people with tax liens and other unpleasant things. Social Security scams start out by telling you that your social security number and identity have been stolen. The scammers promise they can help if you send them money.
“Grandparent phone scam”
The scammer will pretend to be the grandchild or know the grandchild of an older victim. The scammer claims cash is needed immediately for bail or rent and should be sent via wire transfer.
In times of natural disasters (or COVID), people want to donate money to help. These opportunists seek ways to profit from others’ misfortune by soliciting donations for charities — which end up being completely fake. There are many legitimate local, national and international charities. For every legitimate charity, there is a fake charity. Much as we would like to believe that all people are good and honest, they aren’t. There are imposters who are setting up fake charities and posing as “do gooders”.
Unsolicited “tech support”
These are scammers that phone you to tell you that you have a virus on your computer and they need to remotely access it to fix it. I was foolish and fell for this one a few years ago. They accessed my computer remotely, and then held the information on my computer hostage. But, when I refused to pay them the money to “fix” the virus, they stole (wiped) the information from my computer and left the virus so it won’t even start up now. As a result, I had to buy a brand new computer and lost all my photos.
Utility company or bank phone scams
These scammers suggest there is a fraud alert on your credit card and you need to provide them with personal information including card information, PINs, or other payment information. Utility scammers trick people into giving out personal and billing information. Many times they are promising help with utility bills through a federal program or the potential to lower your monthly cost of utilities. Once they have the information, they commit identity theft.
This is a newer scam. The scammer calls and says you owe money (a fine) for not reporting for jury duty. If you refuse to pay the fine, the scammer says the police will be sent to arrest you.
Scammers are creative. They will use any situation to invent a new approach to trick people into giving them money.
Organizations like Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple, governmental agencies such as the IRS and Social Security or the judicial system, and utility services will NEVER phone you about owing money – they will send you a letter via the postal service. So, if you receive a call from someone saying they are from one of these places, it is most likely a scam.
Below are some “do’s” and “don’t” that can help you protect both your parents and yourself from phone scams.
- Register all of your phone numbers (landline and mobile) with the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry. This won’t stop spam calls, but it will make them easier to spot because most legitimate telemarketers won’t call you if you’re on the registry.
- If you use a landline, get a phone with caller ID and only answer a call from a phone number you recognize. The ideal situation is to have both a landline without voicemail and a mobile phone with voicemail. Give the people you talk with on a regular basis (family, friends, doctors, etc.) both your landline number and mobile number and ask them to call your mobile number if you do not answer your landline. This is what I do; for example, if my mother calls my landline and I do not answer, she will call my mobile phone.
- If you use a mobile phone, use a call blocking application. Most mobile phones come with this feature built in now. The call-blocking mobile app screens your calls and weeds out spam and scams.
- Hang up on all robocalls.
- If you do answer the phone and the person is a telemarketer, ask a lot of questions. Real businesses and charities will take the time to answer questions and give you time to consider your options. Scam callers will pressure you to commit right away.
- Take your time before giving money over the phone. Telemarketers will call about travel deals, charities or business and investment opportunities. If you are interested, independently research any deals you hear about by phone.
- Be the call initiator. If you get a call about an issue with your credit card or other account, say thank you, hang up, find the institution’s phone number either online or on the back of your credit or debit card and call the company yourself. NOTE: some scammers will give you a phone number to call. Do not use it. The only time you should verify personal information, or give your credit card number out over the phone is if you initiate the call to a phone number you know is legitimately connected to the institution.
- If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer calls from unknown phone numbers.
- Just because it says the Internal Revenue Service does not mean it is really the IRS that is calling. Don’t trust caller ID. Remember, the IRS, Social Security Administration, and utility companies will not call you. Scammers spoof a name and/or the beginnings of a phone number. Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information your caller ID will display to disguise the caller’s real identity. Scammers often use neighbor spoofing so it appears that an incoming call is coming from a local number, or spoof a number from a company or a government agency that you may already know and trust.
- Never make payments by gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers favor these methods because they are an easy way to get your personal information and money. You will never get your money back. If someone calls and asks you to buy or pay using a gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer, hang up immediately.
- Don’t follow instructions on a prerecorded message, such as “Press 1” to speak to a live operator (it will probably lead to a phishing expedition) or press any key to get taken off a call list (it will probably lead to more robocalls). If you get one of these calls, simply hang up.
- Never give personal or financial data, such as your Social Security number or credit card account number, to organizations who call you. If they say they have the information and just need you to confirm it, that’s a trick to get your personal information.
- Don’t return one-ring calls from unknown numbers. These may be scams to get you to call hotlines in African and Caribbean countries that have U.S.-style three-digit area codes.
Make sure that you report all phone scams to the police and the Federal Trade Commission. Below is a list of resources that are maintaining an up-to-date list of phone scams:
Remember – trust your gut – if it seems too good to be true, it usually is!
Sincerae is here to help your parents and you to protect yourself against phone scams. We are here to help you. Please contact Sincerae at 1.888.697.6922 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 15-minute consultation.