Identity Theft – Telephone Scams
Before getting underway with my crime-prevention tips, I would like to make a couple of personal comments: As you likely know, I have been somewhat slow in posting over the last three months. Well folks, I have been extremely busy moving and taking care of a variety of personal things including the finalization of my latest non-fiction business-related book.
Next, I have received a number of most positive comments regarding my posts. Believe it or not, some readers have even commented that they would like to make monetary contributions to my site. To each and every one of you taking time to offer your positive comments, suggestions and donations, I extend my heart-felt thanks! Two things that I must address: 1.) Due to the number of comments I am receiving, I am finding it difficult to personally respond to each message as I have done in the past; so please understand. 2.) As for sending me donations, many thanks, but no thanks! My sole purpose in posting information is in hopes of helping others not become victims of crime, and to occasionally provide some interesting reading.
So, with those things said, let’s get serious and try to deal with helping to minimize identity theft. As noted in my last post, I commented on what you could do to minimize your risk to being victimized via email fraud. As promised, this time I will attempt to give you some tips on prevention of this growing crime where the thief gains access to your identity via a telephone and/or smart-phone.
I don’t know about you, but three of the more common “scammer” type calls that I receive come from: (1.) someone representing themselves to be from an Internet security department and need for me to give access to my computer in order to investigate a critical problem. These calls generally occur mostly during late evening hours, although I have received them after midnight. (2.) Calls announcing that you just won a cruise or other appealing prize, or (3.) someone claiming to be an employee of a government agency, bank/financial institution, electric, gas or Internet provider, or any other well-known company. These thieves want to obtain your personal identification and will try whatever it takes to get you to fall for their scam. Blocking the phone number seems to provide little help in stopping these calls. The scammer simply uses another number to call from. Many even bypass legitimate “caller-ID” by erroneously showing their calls coming from the legitimate source.
Tips: Do not disclose personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call. Be cautious of emails that ask you to call a phone number to update your account information as well.
Emergency Situation Scammers: One favorite technique of some scammers is to call a relative (grandparents are a favorite target) and tell that person that a relative or someone they know is in serious trouble and in need of immediate money. Instructions generally advise the victim not to tell anyone else, but send the money immediately. More often than not, the person named as needing this help is well and has no such need.
Tips: Be especially alert to those requests to keep this transaction confidential. More often than not, this is a scam situation. Don’t send cash by messenger, overnight mail, or money transfer. If you use cash or a money transfer — rather than a credit card — you may lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges. The money will be gone. Don’t send or wire money to anyone who claims to be a relative or friend in an emergency and wants to keep the request a secret without some type of verification that your relative/friend is in true need.
Robo-calls: These types of calls are generally pre-recorded or identified by a pause from the moment you answer until a person at the other end begins to speak. (Note: various legitimate organizations use robo-calling including charities, political parties and survey organizations, so you don’t want to shut them out.) Be especially suspicious and alert to any message urging you to contact a certain phone number, stating that you either won a prize, or an emergency has occurred that requires you to disclose your personally identifiable information or credit /debit card numbers.
Tips: If you get a robo-call: Hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robo-calls.
Consider asking your phone company whether they charge for blocking phone numbers. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.
Report your experience to the FTC online or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
If your telephone service is through internet or cable, you may wish to consider services that screen and block robo-calls. Try entering an online search for “block robo-calls.”
Unsolicited phone calls. Common types of nuisance calls include prank calls, telemarketing calls, and silent calls. Some scammers call you on the telephone and claim to be from Microsoft. They might offer to help solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. Once they have access to your computer, they can do the following:
Trick you into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge you to remove this software.
Convince you to visit legitimate websites to download software that will allow them to take control of your computer remotely and adjust settings to leave your computer vulnerable.
Request credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.
- Direct you to fraudulent websites and ask you to enter credit card and other personal or financial information there.
Tips: Step 1: Place your number on the “National Do Not Call Registry.” This doesn’t stop all unwanted calls, but it sure helps. When unwanted calls are received, tell the caller that you are on this registry and hang up. Step 2: If the unsolicited caller professes to be from an organization that you may wish to talk with, use your caller ID function and conduct a reverse telephone search via http://www.whitepages.com/reverse_phone. By feeding in the caller’s number, this resource will show whom the number is listed. Be extra safe by looking up the actual organization’s number from a phone book or on the internet. Call the number listed and verify if the request is legitimate. Keep in mind that a scammer or their accomplice could actually be working for the legitimate company and making an unauthorized attempt to gain your personal information. Furthermore, recognize that Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls to charge for computer security or software fixes.
Pretexting: This type of ID thief will make their call (after previously doing research on your personal information) and will lure you to give up additional confidential information (credit card, Social Security Number, etc.) by leading you to believe they are working for a legitimate business in need of this information in order to verify that you are the person they need to speak with. Many victims fall for this ploy since the thief already has their name, address, and phone number.
Tip: To minimize this type of crime, obtain the name of the person to whom you are speaking. Obtain a call back number, and question why they need this information. Use the phone book or internet to look up the telephone number of the company the individual says he/she is employed. Call the company’s number listed in the directory to verify legitimacy of this request.
Phone Fraud: According to the FCC, some wireless consumers are receiving calls from phone numbers with three-digit area codes that appear to be domestic, but are actually associated with international pay-per-call phone numbers. These calls often disconnect after one ring, not giving the consumer time to answer the call and tempting them to return the call. If you return the phone call, you may be connected to an international hotline than can charge a fee just for connecting, along with significant per-minute fees if they can keep you on the phone. These charges may show up on your bill as premium services. This scam appears to be a variation of an old long distance phone scam that tricks consumers into receiving high charges on their phone bills. In the past, telephone consumers have been fooled into making expensive international calls by scam artists who leave messages on consumers’ answering machines or their email accounts. The messages urge consumers to call a number with an “809,” “284,” “876” or some other area code to collect a prize, find out about a sick relative, or engage in sex talk.
Tips: Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
- Be aware that many 3-digit area codes (mostly in the Caribbean) connect callers to international telephone numbers.
- If you do not otherwise make international calls, ask your local or wireless phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.
- If victimized, these charges will show up on your bill, and you will have to dispute each. Contact your provider immediately, register your dispute, and also set up a new account.
- Check your online accounts and bank statements regularly to ensure that no unauthorized transactions have been made.
Fraudsters are everywhere and even operating in places purported to be highly trustworthy and beyond reproach. Example: According to a June 1, 2015, news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, a former IRS employee pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. She admitted to filing more than 350 false tax returns and using stolen identities while working for the IRS from 2008 to 2011. This subject filed more than 120 fraudulent federal tax returns, totaling about $211,000, and at least 236 fraudulent state tax returns, totaling about $115,000.
Unfortunately, there are no fail-safe ways to totally prevent Identity Theft. However, your awareness of these crimes and the methods used by scammers/fraudsters can dramatically lessen your chances of becoming a victim.
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