Top Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them
I’m sure you’ve gotten a few of those pesky calls yourself. You know the ones -- they leave a dire message, and you aren’t sure if you should call back or not. Logically, you know, but they sound so convincing! So how can you protect yourself from being scammed? By knowing what they are all about!
Typical scams include the well known IRS scam where the caller informs you that you owe the IRS a large sum of money and must pay right now or be arrested. You are instructed to pay via some type of gift card, and must stay on the line while you go fetch them. You may also be instructed emphatically not to tell the clerk what you are doing. Sounds like a legitimate deal, right? They will ask you to activate the gift cards, usually Google Play/iTunes, but sometimes Visa cards. Then they require the code on the card which gives them access to the money. And there you go. You just got scammed.
Even the IRS has gone scam-buster with public service announcements like this one.
There are other types of pretty well-known scam stories. Just recently, I received a call from someone claiming to be with the FBI. They told me that my Social Security card had been used in connection with a crime. This one always goes the same way: they ask if you’ve ever visited Texas. (No, I just live here . . . but whatever.) No matter what you answer, they then go on to tell you that a car was rented in your name, some crazy amount of drugs were found in it, as well as weapons (sometimes), and blood (usually). And all this is somehow connected to your Social Security card. It makes no sense, but they will get aggressive to try to intimidate you into believing this ridiculous fictional narrative. The scam here is pretty sketchy. They demand payment to lift a warrant for your arrest. I mean, don’t federal officers demand payment not to apprehend you for a crime on a regular basis? No, this one just falls apart.
A brand new scam just popped up the last few days that is similar to the Social Security scam calls, but a lot more aggressive. In this one, a person claiming to be from Homeland Security calls you, claiming several packages in your name were stopped at the USPS and you are on the hook for some really bad things regarding this packages (the “illegal content” changes from call to call, if they are even clear). The caller becomes quite aggressive about the fallout from the illegal activity and you will be urged to react very quickly or face immediate arrest. What do they urge you to do, exactly? Gift cards!! You can stop your immediate “arrest” by buying them gift cards. In one call, the scammer actually specified Target gift cards. Classy.
Yet another type of scam is the tech support/computer support scam. These scams are normally targeted at older folks who the scammers assume have limited knowledge of computers and digital security. They will claim your virus support has run out on your computer, but for the low, low price of $299 you can get a whole 3 years of 24/7 support! Note: McAffee and Norton, legitimate anti-virus programs, cost far less and are actually reliable.
Another computer scam is the “Windows Refund” scam. Now, this one gets a teeny bit confusing. There are a lot of steps. First, they will tell you that you overpaid some moderate amount on something they think you may remember having purchased for/on your computer a few years ago, and now they want to refund you the unused amount. To complete this process, they will ask to get into your online bank account and have you authorize or verify a dollar amount. While you do that, they have used a fake window on your screen to show that it now looks like the amount of your refund is now 10 times that, is in your account now, and you owe all that money back. So you can fix this by, you guessed it, buying gift cards to repay the amount (which doesn’t exist). I know this one sounds a little confusing, but it’s actually pretty entertaining to hear.
Travel scams are similar to computer support scams. You’ll be given a great non-existent deal on travel, and an option to pay a suspicious amount for travel insurance. If they succeed in convincing you, you will be out a significant amount of money, and no trip!
I encountered a really strange on last week. Russia called me. No name. No location. Just “Russia” and a phone number. They left no message, and haven’t called back. I’m a little insulted, actually. But -- and this is a new one for me -- the scam happens when you call back to a line that charges you, BY THE MINUTE for the call, and the scammer will keep you on the line for as long as possible. It’s kind of an old scam with the 976 numbers from the 80s, with a modern twist.
These scammers even try to use Medicare to try and steal from you. A scammer will call and claim to represent Medicare, Social Security, or an insurance company. They will say that new Medicare, Social Security, or supplemental insurance benefits cards are being issued or that your file must be updated. They will ask you to verify or provide personal banking information, which is then used to scam you out of a lot of money. They also may try to convince you that you need to replace you card to get the personal information they need to steal from you.
With all this, how can you keep yourself and your money safe from these predators? Here’s a few simple ways to tell:
The scammer will be an unknown person who calls out of the blue.
The scammer will likely have a distinct accent.
The call often comes from a number that looks local, and therefore has potential to be legitimate (spoofed numbers).
The scammer will threaten with arrest and use intimidation tactics to scare you into immediate action.
They will ask for gift cards for payment.
Just remember, the IRS will NEVER call you on the phone. They only contact through mail. The IRS and FBI will NEVER ask for payment via gift cards. Threats of arrest are false, and meant to scare you. (Though if you did leave your Texas rental car full of drugs on the side of the road, that’s all on you . . .) Never trust a random caller regarding anything about Medicare. Call your Medicare representative! And lastly, never EVER let anyone connect to your computer remotely unless you have absolute verification that the tech support you called is your actual, real tech support. Call someone like Geek Squad if you aren’t sure.
Here are some audio samples of some of these scams. They have been reviewed for profane language as best as possible, but some may have been missed. Listen at your own risk. (These are all YouTube video links.)
There are quite a few out there, and they change every day. Keep informed, and stay cautious, and you should be safe. Oh, and be sure to share this with friends and family, especially your older ones. They are most likely to be targeted, and definitely need to know about these scams.