Telephone scams have been around nearly as long as public telephones have.
Rumor has it that the first words spoken on the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 were, “Watson, come here, I want you. And, oh, yes, what is your credit card number?”
That’s not really true. Watson didn’t have a credit card. However, it probably didn’t take long for the public telephone to become a tool of choice for scammers and identity thieves seeking to steal anybody’s money.
What is new is the overwhelming volume of such attempts today that Americans endure every year.
In a recent article published by AARP, it stated that of the estimated 29 billion unsolicited calls in 2016 alone, huge numbers of those included some form of potential rip-offs as well as unsolicited technical support scams.
AARP recommends that while you should not be afraid to answer the unexpected phone call, there are a number of good things to do to know if the sales pitch is legitimate.
1. Do some research. Google the salesperson and the company before you buy. Even ask what is the agent number of the salesperson. If they give it to you, call the company and see if that person is valid. Explore their reputation thoroughly. If you’re not satisfied, walk away.
2. Don’t react out of fear. No matter how serious or urgent the script may be, don’t act immediately. Always hang up and give yourself time to think. Check it out to see if the story is credible.
3. Trust your instincts. If a caller sounds fishy, it probably is. Often times the caller has a heavy foreign accent. Probably best to hang up. The chances of you losing out on a great deal do not outweigh the chance of losing much of your life savings.
A particular scam AARP identifies are those claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, maybe a criminal investigator or something, and claiming arrest is imminent unless you make good right away on back taxes.
In some cases, individuals have been instructed to put $500 on multiple iTunes gift cards and give up the 16-digit codes. Don’t do it. The IRS would never ask a taxpayer to buy iTunes cards for any reason.
Computer scams are also being used quite often as well as the telephone. Internet experts create little boxes that pop on the screen out of nowhere, telling you that you have a virus and need to call them right away for technical support. To continue without calling them first will risk causing serious damage to the operating system or some such thing.
Reputable computer companies do not notify customers of a problem through pop-ups unless it is from a virus protection software that you previously installed.
Have you ever received a call from someone claiming to be from the county sheriff saying you missed jury duty and need to pay the county a $1,000 fine? Pay immediately, the caller says, or deputies will be arriving at your door very soon.
The sheriff’s department, nor the county court, does not work that way. Hang up, call the sheriff’s office and report the incident.
Many, many people play the lottery. Callers have been known to say they represent the lottery in a given foreign country and you are the winner. How about that? You didn’t even know you had entered. All you have to do to collect your winnings, the caller says, is wire X amount to the number they will give you.
That one is pretty bald-face simple, so don’t fall for it. Lotteries don’t call you if you never purchased a ticket.
Finally, the credit card game. If Mr. Watson had had a credit card, maybe he would have received a call from the bank claiming there was a problem with the card. To straighten things out just simply give the caller with your account number, date of birth, and the last four digits of your Social Security card. Watson didn’t have one of those either. But don’t do it. It’s the wolf on the other end of the line wanting the information needed to hack your account.
These are but a few of many other, perhaps even more ingenious methods to steal your money and your identity. Beware and be wise.