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Have you had the call yet from the Internal Revenue Service? Neither have I. IRS doesn’t call you out of the blue to demand money. Someone else does. Mine had a foreign accent, oddly, telling me I had to call some number or the local police would be right over to arrest me. If I had called the number given, I would have been instructed to wire money somewhere. It would not have gone to the tax man. I hung up instead. It was just another scam.
Why not? is the short answer. If you have a phone, even a mobile phone, the autodialers will eventually get your number. The scammers are all over the Internet as well, and occasionally they show up in the mail. They all want your money and they will generally lie to you and play head games to get you to send it to them. Worse, some of these scoundrels will try to get your identity and clean you out.
You are more vulnerable if you are lonely, if you are worried about money or security, if you are alone a lot, and if you have some dream you can’t fulfill. Many of my current clients fit this profile. You don’t have to be rich or elderly, though I’m sure the rich would appeal to these guys.
Where do they come from?
Phone scams can be launched from anywhere in the world. All it takes is an arrangement that lets them join our phone system from the Internet and maybe a gadget that lets them disguise their originating phone number or country. Internet scams are also as easily offshore as on. Mail scams tend to be more physically connected in-country but you never know ultimately.
What makes it harder to know is that legitimate businesses often use phone customer service people who are either out of the country, like in a call center in India, or new to our country and have an accent. You can’t tell by that alone. Similarly, hearing a call center’s background noise isn’t a sure way to tell. And the telltale silence between your hello and the start of a taped message only tells you someone wants you to listen to the message.
How phone scams work.
The way you find out is by listening to them. Many, like the IRS scam, will hit you with a scare tactic. The grandchild scam is like that. You get a call from someone about your grandchild being stuck while traveling or arrested, and they need money to get out of their predicament. These people want you to act before you think.
Some will get you excited about winning a prize. There’s a guy who’s been working our area who calls from “Jamaica” to tell his victims they’ve won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes and a Mercedes from last model year. He wants their Social Security number so he can set up the tax withholding and $800 down payment on the taxes, plus any credit and bank account numbers. He is thorough, he is charming, he is domineering later on and absolutely relentless. This guy had a client afraid to answer her phone.
Another scam has a nice person from Social Security calling to verify their information about you. They get you to recite your information to them and then steal your Social Security account. Credit card people wanting to review your information with you is another version of this. Don’t be too helpful!
- If you don’t want to take a sales call or scam, just hang up. You don’t have to be nice to machines or scammers.
- People who want your information for official or legitimate purposes will ask for it in writing. So the IRS, Social Security, your credit card company will write to you about any problems they may have. They should not call you. When in doubt, call them back at the number you have, not the number they give you.
- Same with the Sweepstakes. Go by the rules the company running it sets out. They will notify you, not by phone from Jamaica, but by letter or with TV vans in your yard or whatever they say on their literature.
Social media scams
Lonely people often spend time on Facebook looking for some kind of social connection. Scammers know this and play the romance card. They tell you they are on an oil rig in the Irish Sea or stationed in Afghanistan and they’re lonely. You are courted, and eventually the man will ask for some WalMart cards or some other thing that’s SO useful where they are. From there they decide to marry you and take you some exotic place but first can you send them $500 to help them with a problem?
That’s a funnel. It’s used in marketing, in running spies, and it’s a great form of manipulation for scammers too. They get you to love them and do them small favors, then bigger ones as they turn up the promises/raise the stakes. Sometimes they get controlling as the value of the come-ons increase. Watch for this kind of behavior. Be careful what you tell anyone on the Internet, just as you would protect pictures of your kids. Not every “friend” on Facebook is a nice person.
There are still mail scams out there, though mail fraud is a criminal offense and the Postal Service watches for it. I just saw a really egregious one recently. Somebody writes to my client whom the Jamaica guy called. This man tells her that he understands her and that he’s connected with a secret society made up of TV stars, used car salesmen and state senators and such. This secret society will help her achieve her dreams, whatever they are. There’s a lot more vague yet enticing words but basically that’s the pitch. I told her to give me any more of these she gets, because she wants to believe.
The general rule with mail scams, as with all scams, is that if it’s too good to be true, it very likely isn’t. So forget the secret societies, the Irish Sweepstakes, and watch out for the funnels.
Steps to take with any scam.
- Report any scam you come across. If it’s in the mail, show your postmaster. Report phone scams to the police. And if someone goes after you on Facebook, report him to Facebook. Or to whatever platform they find you on. It’s not legal and it’s against any responsible online platform’s rules of use.
- Always go back to the supposed company behind the scammer. If they say they’re from the IRS, call the IRS from the phone book or official website contact page. Don’t tell the scammer anything.
- Never give out information just because someone asks, even if they look like they’re supposed to be trustworthy. Always go back to the real source first, or wait for a letter asking you for the information.
- When in doubt, break off contact. If you feel you gave information by mistake, report that and get it remedied if possible. Change your account numbers or whatever. If you make the call to the number from a safe source, you’ll be all right.
- Watch for your vulnerable relatives, friends, neighbors etc. If they’re suddenly FedExing packages of cash, they’re in trouble. Help them call the authorities or do it for them.
Scams are a fact of life. They’re hazards that come with our ability to connect so easily. Watch out for them, blow them off when you recognize them, and report them. Talk about them with others so they’ll recognize them easier. Support legislation limiting autodial calls and phone spoofing. We’re all in this together.
Have you had a run-in with a scammer? What did you do?