While much of the current emphasis about scams and fraud is focused on the cyber worlds of the internet, email and social media, the telephone is still a very prominent entry point for scammers into your world.
It’s 8:00 a.m. and your home phone rings. The caller ID indicates an area code where your grandson goes to college.
“Grandma?” says the gravelly, choked up voice.
“Kevin?” you reply.
You have trouble hearing his shaky voice. “Yes, it’s me Grandma. I’m in trouble….umm, in jail. I was drinking and got in an accident. I need your help. My court appointed attorney is right here… please talk to her, and please don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
The “court appointed attorney” then outlines a hopeful picture to help quietly resolve Kevin’s trouble with quick actions involving pleas, courts and restitution. And of course, he needs the money quickly. I personally know someone who I never thought would get caught by a scam like this lose over $30,000. This is just one example of the variety of scams used by phone scammers. Others involve fake charities, IRS collections, friends or relatives in distress while traveling, local utility payment collection, lottery winning, tech support, credit card offers and many more.
Most of us can identify scams like this quickly and hang up, but these scammers play a numbers game and work with a huge volume of robocalls to find a vulnerable target. Their methods are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. They use public records, dark web data and social media to identify targets. They can use technology to “spoof” phone numbers to look like a local call, or another area you may know. They are relentless.
How can you protect yourself?
- Hang up! If you can’t tell whether the call is from a relative or friend, let the call go to voicemail.
- Use technology to your advantage. Learn how to use your phone’s caller ID and voicemail functions to create contacts and easily review messages so you can screen your calls effectively.
- Verify information left in voicemail messages before calling back. Only call numbers that you verify as legitimate.
- Never give out personal information on the phone unless you initiated the call to a verified phone number.
- Spread the word and stay informed. Stay up to date about the latest scams and pass the word, especially to your elderly relatives and friends, as they are the most vulnerable.