This is going to be a little bit of a rant, I’m afraid.
Do you get numerous phone calls a day from unknown callers? It used to be easy to avoid spammy phone calls if you had caller ID – don’t answer any calls from area codes you don’t recognize. I don’t know anyone in Chicago or Indianapolis, so I don’t answer those calls. I do know people in Las Vegas, New York and San Diego, and I’d hate to play phone tag if one of them called. But they didn’t.
Instead, it’s a robocall allegedly from google ads or a credit card offer or some other scam.
You can’t even trust calls that look like they originate near you. Phone scammers spoof the number they’re calling from to make it look like another number.
I’m familiar with the “You’ve won a free vacation” calls, the phishing scams that claim to be from “Windows Rescue Center”, the bogus IRS calls and the fake charity solicitations. Last week, however, brought a new scam: I got a phone message from a robocaller allegedly about pending litigation, saying I needed to get a lawyer and call back.
Because I’m naturally skeptical, I brushed it off. I got the same message, from the same number, around the same time, each of the next three days. It got annoying, so I did what you’re NOT supposed to do – I called back to tell them to leave me alone. The person I talked to tried to frighten me by saying that I need to pay some ridiculous debt or get a lawyer. I told him I’ll get a lawyer since I don’t owe any money. I also told him I was reporting the call to the FTC.
If you really owe money to a company, they don’t hire a debt collector to threaten you with a lawsuit; they send you a letter. If you don’t respond, they send you registered mail. Don’t give financial information to unsolicited callers.
By the way, robocalls are illegal, and the FTC has pursued many companies but they can’t get every one.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:
- DO NOT give personal information to unsolicited callers, even if they threaten legal action.
- If your phone rings once and then stops, don’t call back if you don’t recognize the number. If you do, you may be connected to an international hotline that can charge a fee, along with per-minute fees if they can keep you on the phone.
- Add your number to the federal Do Not Call registry. If you continue to get calls, file a complaint with the FTC.
- Hang up on bogus calls. The FTC recommends that you not press buttons to be taken off their list or to talk to a live person.
I don’t understand how phones became weapons to deceive innocent people. Seniors often are targeted because they don’t realize that the callers aren’t who they say they are. Don’t become like this poor woman in Arizona, who lost thousands of dollars in a phone scam.
Because it’s so easy to pull off these scams, thieves use email to pull people in, too. You’ve probably heard of the Nigerian scheme, where someone pledges to send you a lot of money after you first send money to them. There’s also the vacation mishap scheme, where you get an email from someone you know who says they’re in trouble overseas and need money quickly.
Every day for the last few weeks I’ve received email from someone who allegedly sent me thousands of dollars through Paypal. I could retire with all the money I’ve got in my account! Except there’s nothing there. Don’t click on the provided links. If someone really had deposited money in your account, you would be able to see it by logging in to Paypal.
Safely using the internet and your phone seem to get harder each day. You have to be vigilant. You wouldn’t open your front door to someone you don’t know; use the same caution with the phone and email.
Thanks for putting up with my indignation. Please protect yourself.