How to Avoid Phone Scams & Report Scammers

No Phone Scams Graphic by Clandestino Pixabay Creative Commons LicenseI don’t often publish content from other writers. But this article on the 8 most common phone scams targeting American families is too good not to share.

Some of them — like the “free” vacation scam — target low-income families for whom the idea of a vacation trip seems like an unattainable dream.  Others, like the many variations of the IRS scam target freelance workers, small business owners, and older Americans.

The truth is the scammers don’t care who they target, or who they hurt.  So take a look at this article, posted with permission from Kevin Theriot at CallerSmart, and avoid these common phone scams.  The full, original article (which includes phone numbers known to be associated with specific scams) is online here. The original article includes links to the CallerSmart app for iPhone that helps people spot and block numbers associated with scams.

If you’re like me, and never bothered to learn how to block phone numbers on your iPhone, here’s a link to the CallerSmart page that shows how to block potential spammers from calling an iPhone.

Free Vacations and Prizes

You finish your day at work and you have a voicemail from an unknown number: “Congratulations! You’ve won a free cruise to the Bahamas! To claim your reward…” Chances are, like most things, this is too good to be true. The free prize, Disney trip, Caribbean cruise, dream vacation, etc. is a common scam. What you’ve won might change, but the scammers still want the same thing: your personal info and money.

A major red flag to watch out for with these free trip/reward scams is if they ask you to first pay a small fee in order to collect your prize. If you’ve won something then you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Phone Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are usually carried out via email or websites, but there are also phishing calls that try to convince you that there’s an issue with your computer. These scammers will make you think that your computer and privacy is at risk to get information out of you, or to get you to download malicious software that can steal your information.

Most companies like Microsoft won’t call you out of the blue. If you do get a call where a person is saying that you’re at risk, ask them for their information and say that you’ll call back. Once you’ve hung up you can check with the company they said they were calling from to see if there really is an issue with your computer.

Loan Scams

What do auto loan, student loan, small business loan and payday loan phone calls all have in common? They’re all typically scams.

Whenever you get a cold call it’s smart to be suspicious, especially when they are offering you money and asking for information. If you feel that you’ve gotten a call from a loan scammer you can file a report with the FTC.

Note from Deb McAlister-Holland: This is also true of colleges and trade schools who call to recruit students for their for-profit schools — often just after someone has filed for unemployment insurance, moved to an apartment in a less expensive part of town, or applied for some form of public assistance like Medicaid.

These for-profit schools charge from three to 15 times the tuition you’d pay at a local junior college for the same education. They lure students of all ages in by promising easy acceptance and a high-paying job “in just a few months”. Then they leave you saddled with a $15-30,000 student loan debt at very high interest that you may be paying off out of your social security earnings and tax refunds for decades to come. Real colleges and universities don’t make unsolicited recruitment calls to working adults. So be wary of these offers of “free” money, too.

Phony Debt Collectors

Equally annoying to loan scammers, but a bit more discouraging because of the threats they can make, phony debt collectors can be a serious problem. If you get a call from a debt collector ask for their name, number and company information, then end the call. After this you can check with your creditor about the calls to verify if the debt collector is real.

The FTC gives excellent guidelines on what to do if you’re being harassed by fraudulent debt collectors. The number one thing to do is not give any of your personal information out. After that ask for the caller’s information and that the caller send you written notice of your debt.

Interesting fact: If you send a written letter asking a debt collector to stop calling you, they can no longer legally call you.

Fake Charities

Sadly, some people feel they have nothing better to do than pose as fake charities and scam people out of money. One of the most common fundraiser telephone scams involve people pretending to collect money for local police and fire departments.

It’s not just fake police and fire department funds that will call though. Recently, the FTC filed a civil complaint against four supposed cancer charities. These charities stole nearly $200 million from Americans, their success in large part was due to aggressive telemarketing tactics. We’ve found several other scammers using similar tactics:

Before you decide to donate it’s always a good idea to do some information digging to make sure you know where your money is going. There are websites, like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, that can help you check out charities to make sure they’re legitimate.

Medical Alert/Scams Targeting Seniors

Seniors are especially vulnerable to phone scams because scammers usually target them the most. One of the most common scams that aims to con seniors are free medical alert system offers. Much like the free giveaway scams, medical alert scams ask for personal information.

It’s best to just hang up on these callers whether they’re offering free medical systems, discounted prescriptions, or making threats.

Warrant Threats

Similar to the IRS scam, calls threatening that you’ll be arrested can be really stressful. They are designed to make people panic. You or someone you know might have received phone calls from someone claiming to be the sheriff’s department, or DEA, or even the FBI. When you get calls like this don’t trust them.

Note from Deb McAlister-Holland: If a law enforcement agency has a warrant, they don’t call to alert criminals that they are about to be arrested. Even if it’s “just” a traffic warrant, if a law enforcement agency has a warrant, they will simply show up on your doorstep with no advance “courtesy call”.

IRS Scams

The most common and publicized of phone scams is the IRS scam. Robo dialers call thousands of people daily trying to catch them in this scam.

These scammers can be incredibly convincing as they often know your name and the last 4 digits of your social security. However, the real IRS will never request immediate payment from you over the phone. If you think you’ve been contacted by an IRS scammer you should call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.

How to Report Phone Scammers

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission maintains an FTC website where consumers can report attempted phone, email, or mail scams. There are sections on the site for scammers posing as someone from a government agency such as the IRS, DEA, or FEMA, and a section for businesses and charities as well.

The site also provides links to the Do Not Call Registry, with a method for reporting those who call after your number has been on the list for 31 days. Last, but hardly least, the site contains helpful information on what to do about identity theft, scams, and getting a refund if you have been scammed.

Note from Deb McAlister-Holland: The FTC won’t handle individual cases, and won’t “make” a scammer stop calling you or refund your money. So the best protection is to avoid being scammed in the first place — and whenever anyone tries it, report them so the authorities can take action on behalf of all of their victims.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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