Recognize and Defeat Phone Scams

There are plenty of phone scams occurring at any point in time, and the techniques used can widely vary. So, how do you stay aware of the different types and protect yourself from these phone scams? Well, education can certainly help. Let's take a look at how these scams work and the different types we have seen.

Here's the typical layout of a phone scam:

  • A typical scam involves an impersonation
    • A scammer may call you with a faked caller ID claiming to be any number, person, or company that the scammer chooses to impersonate.
    • This could include a person impersonating a call from a government agency or trusted business partner, your bank, and others. An example could be someone impersonating calling from a Sharonview number or with Sharonview listed on the caller ID.
  • A phone scam usually focuses on urgency
    • Perhaps they are calling about an offer that has to be acted upon immediately, or a gift, or an overdue bill, or someone is in a dire situation. They want you to feel pressure to act now and not take time to think about it.
  • The goal of these scams are always to eventually get money. There are just different techniques that may be used.
    • They may try to get you to willingly pay money directly over phone.
    • They may try to convince you send gift cards or wire transfers.
    • They may try to extract information which can be used at a later.
    • They may try to play a long con, trying to establish trust early on.

Here are some common scam types:

  • IRS Taxes Overdue or Refund Owed - Caller claiming you owe back taxes and demanding payment over the phone telling you to pay using gift cards, or telling you there is a refund due and asking for deposit information. There are many tax related scams. For more information view the IRS Tax Scams website page.
  • Family Member Kidnapped or in Jail - Caller claiming to be representing a family member that has been kidnapped or has been in a traffic accident. The caller may even claim to be from the family with an injured jaw or lip impacted their speech or voice. Caller demands payment in the form of card number over the phone, cash to be mailed or shipped via overnight carrier.
  • Can You Hear Me? - Caller immediately asks, "Can you hear me?" In this scam, the caller is trying to get you to say the word "Yes" in a phone conversation, so they can use that affirmative response to authorize unwanted charges on a phone bill, utility bill or a stolen credit card. It's best to just hang up. If you think you need to take the call, you can just ask, "Who is this?". Just avoid saying "Yes".
  • Free Tech Support - Caller claiming to offer tech support, typically on behalf of Microsoft or Apple. While free tech support is usually available during the warranty period on a device, these companies do not reach out to you to offer tech support free of charge based on a review of your account or online activity. Some of the dangers here is they may be looking for credit/debit card information, or they may be trying to get you to divulge website login information.
  • Free Prize/Gift Card - Caller lets you know you have won an item or gift card. They tell you they just need you to pay a processing, handling and/or shipping fee, usually a small fee of $4.95. They make the fee small compared to what they claim you will receive, so it will make it seem "reasonable". Once you pay by credit card or bank account, then they have your information to make further purchases.




Avoiding the Scams

You can use the following tips to keep up your guard and help you fight back against these phone scams.

Know the facts:

  • No company should ever call you and ask for your online/mobile banking login information over the phone or email.
  • The IRS will NEVER ask you to pay back taxes through gift cards or wire transfers. They do not accept payments this way.
  • Any reputable company, when requesting a payment for an overdue bill, etc., will not have any problem with you calling back on their official line to handle the situation.

Techniques to Handle Calls

Technique #1: Call Them Back
If someone calls you and says they are from a company or agency with which you do business, such as Sharonview, and you doubt the validity of the call, hang up – wait few minutes – and call the business/agency back using a number that you’ve gotten from an account statement or number printed on your credit or debit card.  If it's a business with a local branch, it may be just as easy to visit if you have questions or concerns.

Technique #2: Ask Tough Questions
If you think there might be any merit to the call, ask necessary questions. Be careful to do so without giving them any essential information about you. Most of the time, if you start asking for details about the family member in jail or about the taxes you didn't pay, the scammer will not be able to continue the ruse. Typically, they will just give up and end the call. Even if they seem to have relevant information about you, be wary. If you still think the call is valid, let them know you will call back on the official listed number. If they get upset, that's a good sign it's likely a scam.

Technique #3: Don't Be Afraid to Hang Up
If someone calls you, and they can't answer your questions, and/or they get agitated with your questions or when you let them know you'll call the main line... just hang up. You don't need to worry about manners with a scammer. Plus, you don't want to give them any more time to gather any important information about you.

Technique #4: Do Your Research
When someone calls saying that you need to pay money to free your family member from jail, or some other difficult situation, take a few minutes to make your own phone calls to see if there's any truth to their claims. Wouldn't you reach out to the person in trouble or the other people who may live with them to see if there's any truth to the claim, or if they are actually just at home?

Technique #5: Use Common Sense
Even though claims of prizes and gift cards may sound exciting, take a moment to think if you should even be receiving this call. If you didn't enter a contest, then you didn't win anything. If you file your taxes properly each year, then you are not likely to receive a call claiming many years of back taxes. If you don't know about your long lost prince relative who wants to send you money as his sole heir, well... do we really need to say it?




What Can You Do?

If you suspect that you are victim of a phone scam call your local police; file a complaint with the FCC; change your on-line banking password, if shared, and contact your financial institution to report the fraud.




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