How to Avoid Phone Scams
...with AARP Fraud Watch Network's Amy Nofziger
Who’s at Risk? – Amy says everyone is at risk -- everyone. Of course, older adults may be more vulnerable because of their more trusting nature, and possibly the lower understanding of technology. Additionally, scammers go where the money is, and older adults do hold the majority of wealth in this country.
National Do Not Call List – It still works, but it is filtering out mostly legitimate companies doing telemarketing. If you’re registered with the list, you are being helped. These companies mostly go by the rules and do not call those registered, thus lessening the amount of calls you could be receiving.
Apps can help, too! – There are apps like Nomorobo that help detect robocalls. These apps help identify scam calls. When your phone rings, a message comes up on your phone screen that indicates it’s a fraud call helping you avoid answering.
Golden Rule – If you don’t know who is calling, don’t pick up! Let it go to voicemail. Any legitimate caller will leave you a voicemail or call you back right away.
Types of Phone Scams:
Spoofing Scams – Also known as the “neighbor scam”…they call you with a phone number similar to yours or sometimes, from your exact number. These days we are all used to getting many spam calls and so we don’t pick up. The goal with the Spoofing Scam is to get you to pick up because the number is familiar.
Impostor Scams -- Some of the biggest phone scams we’re currently hearing about are called the impostor scams. These can take many variations, but in essence it’s a scammer pretending to be someone they are not.
Here are some examples of both types of scams…
In this scam, a caller pretends to be an IRS employee, claims you owe taxes and threatens that authorities are going to arrest you. They might "spoof" their phone number so it looks like it's coming from the IRS or another government agency and will demand payment immediately. In reality, the IRS wouldn't call you — they'd send a letter. They also wouldn't demand on-the-spot payment or threaten you with arrest by a local police department or sheriff. To verify, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
The third-most common scam faced by seniors, a caller claims you've won a lottery or jackpot, often in a foreign country like Jamaica. Experts say be highly skeptical of any caller who claims you've won a prize, especially if you don't remember buying a ticket or entering a drawing. If you win a traditional lottery, no one knows you bought a ticket and it's your responsibility to contact authorities to prove it, not the other way around. Be even more wary if they send you a check with instructions to deposit it and then forward a portion of that to someone else in taxes or fees. Real government-run lotteries withhold taxes before you ever get a dime.
Particularly insidious, these scams often start with a late-night call from someone purporting to be a relative, and although their voice might not sound right, they might know a few specific details about you or the person they're pretending to be. It's an emergency, they say, they've been arrested or are stranded and they can't reach anyone else and could you please wire them some money right now to help them out of a jam? Experts say these scams are effective because they trigger our desire to help, which combined with a little Facebook sleuthing can provide a scammer with everything they need to sucker you out of some money, especially if it's late at night and you're not thinking things through. You can avoid being suckered by saying you must consult another family member first, hanging up and taking a few minutes to check out the story. On the off chance it's actually true, you've only wasted a few minutes verifying things.
These scams vary widely, from callers offering to pay upfront for future disability and pension payments (usually just a rip off) to scams in which veterans are told to call a special number to determine if they're eligible for special health care under the Veterans Choice Program. You're told to leave a credit card number to check for eligibility ... and then they ring up charges. Other scams: being charged for your own records (the VA can get you those for free) or unsolicited calls claiming to be from the VA looking to update its records (the VA doesn't call you like that).