Phone Scams to Watch Out for and What to Do to Protect Yourself
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of phone scams. I get these types of calls almost every week. Clever criminals armed with a phone, spoofed numbers, and a devious imagination, work tirelessly to devise schemes to fleece hard-working folks. The confident con men posing as government officials, family members, and company representatives, work on people’s fears, generosity, and sometimes greed to defraud them.
While there are as many variations of phone scams as there are different flavors of Coca-Cola, they all have a common aim: to get you to part with money or sensitive information, which they’ll ultimately use to steal from you.
Here Are Some of the Most Common of These Phone Scams and How They Work:
The fake lottery winnings
Fake lottery scammers call up their intended victims and ask them to pay some fee to claim a prize or winnings from a lottery, competition or sweepstake. They may also send you an email, text message, or contact you on social media.
What competition? You probably can’t recall entering for any such activity. But then, there’s the allure of the mouth-watering “prize,” which could range from cash to an exotic holiday to high-end computers or smartphones. It’s at this point would be victims drop their guards.
To claim your prize, the smooth-talking criminal will demand that you pay a fee. The said fee will cover taxes, insurance, bank fees, or courier charges. They will usually throw in some sense of urgency here – pay quickly or lose your winnings.
They’ll often go further and ask you not to let anyone know, with the reasoning that keeping the information private will prevent other people from getting your prize. These vehicles of urgency and privacy serve to prevent you from seeking additional information or advice from other sources.
While some of these phone scammers will stop at taking any fee that their unfortunate victim unwittingly pays, others will extract your details under the guise of establishing your identity as the real winner. They may also demand your bank details so they can pay the prize money directly paid to you. They will use this information to steal your identity and plunder your bank account.
A deadlier variation of this old con involves the scammers hacking into your social media account and sending messages through it to family members telling them they have won some prize. This works so well because it uses the trust between family members to get victims to part with their money.
Fortunately, fraudulent lottery winning phone scams are not particularly hard to detect. First off, you can’t win a lottery or competition you never entered for. Also, real lotteries will never ask you to pay money upfront to claim your winnings.
If somehow, you still retain a hope that the promised millions will be yours if you comply, a simple, independent search on the web will clear your doubts. Details of the supposed lottery you won will never show up anywhere else on the internet.
The Social Security phone scam
In one of the most reported phone scams, fraudsters posing as Social Security Administration staff will call you claiming that your Social Security number is suspended or blocked due to suspicious activity.
They may ask you to pay a fee to reactivate it or get a new number. Or they can claim that someone has fraudulently used your social security number to apply for credit and making you liable to lose your benefits.
In most cases, the crooks will ask you to verify your social security number. And here’s where the real danger lies. They can use this unique identifier to steal more personal information about you and assume your identity.
A criminal that steals your identity may use it to obtain credit in your name or receive benefits due to you. And you may not find out till creditors start asking for payments for items you never bought.
In the first half of 2019 alone, scammers using these scare tactics stole more than $17 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Exercise caution answering calls from unrecognized numbers. Although the caller ID may show as Social Security Administration, this can easily be faked.
The IRS scam
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) says that about 13,000 taxpayers lost over $63 million to IRS phone scams between 2013 and 2018. With most of them happening during and just after-tax season
Here’s how the IRS scam works. A caller claiming to be from the IRS will call you and notify you of outstanding taxes. The caller will then insist that you must pay with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. If you refuse to pay, the lowlifes will threaten you with arrest, closing your business, deportation, losing your home, or driver’s license. You may even get a call from the police telling you they’ve been mandated by IRS to collect the tax, and you’ll be thrown in jail if you don’t pay up.
However, the IRS will never send the police after you simply because you owe tax. Arrest and prison only apply to those involved in tax fraud, and then only if several efforts to remedy the situation have failed.
Another giveaway is that when the IRS notifies you in writing over your tax debt, they’ll suggest several options for paying, which includes writing a check or a website known as Direct Pay, where you can identify yourself and pay electronically.
The IRS will never ask you to pay with a wire transfer, a prepaid debit card, or request for your card details over the phone.
The TIGTA has graciously provided tips for handling IRS scam calls. If you do owe taxes or you aren’t quite sure, hang up and call the IRS immediately at 800-718-1040. Call the TIGTA at 800-366-4484 to report the intended scam if you are sure your taxes are up to date. Alternatively, you can file a report on the TIGTA website.
The tech support scam
You get a call out of the blues from someone claiming to work for a big tech firm. They confidently assure you that your computer has a particularly nasty virus. They ask for remote access to enable them to run “diagnostics” and fix the virus problem before it wrecks your computer.
There may be some variations of this tech support scam, such as a pop-up suddenly appearing on your screen warning you of a problem with your computer and asking you to contact them through an included number to fix the issue.
No matter the form they come, computer virus scammers aim to get you to pay for a solution to a nonexistent problem. They’ll usually ask you to pay via wire transfer, prepaid card, gift card, or a money transfer app – payment methods that you can’t easily recall.
If you get an unexpected call telling you about a virus on your computer, hang up. Real tech companies will never call you on the phone (nor send an email or text message) to notify you of a problem with your computer. Also, ignore any pop-up urging you to call a provided number. Genuine Pop-up security warnings don’t ask you to call.
Go to a known and trusted software company when your computer starts to misbehave. They offer support online or through the phone.
If you happen to give the scammer remote access to your computer, or compromised your login details, run a scan and delete anything that appears as a threat. Change your password right away. Then report to the Federal Trade Commission.
The grandparent scam
The grandparent scam is targeted at seniors and works with deadly efficiency by leveraging on their emotions. A call comes in, usually in the dead of night, and a frantic voice identifying himself as your grandchild claims he’s in trouble. He’s been arrested abroad and needs some money right away to regain his freedom. He asks you not to tell mom and dad because they’ll be mad. Sometimes, they’ll hand over the phone to an “officer” who’ll corroborate their claims and give details of the cooked-up bail conditions.
When you send the money, usually through western union or MoneyGram, the criminals at the other end using fake ID’s claims it and quietly disappears.
The con artist may obtain information about family members on social media and the internet to put up a formidably believable act. Sometimes, all the scammer has to say is: Grandma? And their victim supplies the missing information by unwittingly asking: is that Andrew?
If you have grown up grandkids, you need to arm yourself against potential attempts.
Be wary of calls that come in at odd hours and from overseas.
The caller could be anywhere: they can use technology to make the call seem to originate from abroad. Usually, the caller will ask you to send the money quickly and secretly. Also, asking for money through Western Union or MoneyGram is already a red flag.
Have a list of questions only family members can answer. If you get such calls, listen but don’t be in a hurry to send any money. Call or text your grandchild to verify. And also, their parents: they’ll be only glad to help if their child is in some trouble.
How You Can Protect Yourself From These Phone Scams:
Millions of dollars are lost yearly to phone scams. However, these scam calls are easy to detect if you know what to watch out for.
- Do not allow anyone to pressure you over the phone. Take time to think things over before committing especially when personal information and money are involved.
- Never give out your social security number and other sensitive information over the phone, even if your caller ID says it’s President Trump calling. No government agency will make such a request.
Anyone who asks for money that way is most likely a scammer. Scammers will always demand payments in such a way that makes it challenging to get your money back. These include prepaid cards, gift cards, money transfer services, and wire transfers.
What if you’ve already been scammed? There’s a possibility of getting your money back if you inform your credit card company, gift card issuer, or money transfer company immediately. Also, report to the FTC atftc.gov/complaint. The phone numbers and other details of the scam artist you supply to them helps them track down these criminals and help developers improve software that blocks scam calls.