How To Avoid Phone Scams

True story from a PogoZone Associate:

“I got a phone call from my Grandma who told me she was worried about my brother. He had been arrested in Mexico for buying drugs and had called her for bail money. She was on her way to Western Union to send a money order to get him out of jail when she called me.

“Your brother was just arrested for drugs in Mexico and needs money ASAP to get him out of jail. I’m on my way to Western Union right now. He doesn’t want your parents to know that he got in trouble, so he called me first. I just need you to help me figure out how to send him money,” she said.

The problem was, my brother was sitting next to me, on my couch, in Seattle.

“Grandma, my brother is here with me now. He’s not in trouble and certainly hasn’t been arrested,” I told her.

At that moment everything clicked for her. She was in the middle of being scammed. And boy was she angry!

The gist of the story is a scammer called my grandmother and said “Hey Grandma, it’s your Grandson. I’m in a lot of trouble and need your help, but you can’t tell my parents! I’ve been arrested in Mexico and need you to bail me out. I need you to go to the nearest Western Union and wire me $3,000. I’ll pay you back, I promise. I love you Grandma.

There were many red flags that my Grandma ignored at first but later recognized as clever hustling by the scammer.

  • He never used his first name, just “it’s your Grandson”.
  • His voice didn’t sound like my brother’s.
  • My brother would have called me or a close buddy first if he was in trouble. Certainly not my 95 year old Grandma.
  • The story of using drugs and being arrested just didn’t make sense – my brother had never been in trouble a day in his life.

Thankfully my Grandma never made it to Western Union. Instead, she called the police and gave them every detail she knew.

As far as we know, no arrests were ever made. Thankfully we’re able to laugh about the absurdity of the whole situation now, but we’d be signing a different tune had she actually sent the money.”

Unfortunately, phone scams like this are all too common. The most popular one making the rounds right now is the robocall informing you that your “car’s extended warranty is about to expire” and if you don’t renew it now, your car won’t be covered.

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in phone scams where the scammers “spoof” the phone number they are calling from to look like a local number and/or they use the name of a local entity–usually some sort of government agency–to gain your trust. Then they use scare tactics to get you to fork over money via gift cards or money orders.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

Recognizing patterns in these phone calls will help you avoid being scammed. Here are a few tips to avoid being a victim of phone scams.

Do Not Disclose Personal Information

Never disclose your personal information to someone who has called you directly. If you’re not expecting a phone call, like from the IRS or DMV, and the caller needs you to verify personal information over the phone, politely get their name and case number and tell them you will call back and hang up. Find their office phone number via their website, an invoice, or the phonebook and call them directly.

Never Say “Yes”

It’s an old scam, but it works, here’s how:

Someone calls you and asks a question that requires a “yes” answer like “is this ____?” or “can you hear me?” If you respond with a “yes” the scammer records your voice and can use that recording to carry out scams like fraudulent charges on your phone bill or credit card.

Instead of answering “yes” to any question, answer in complete sentences. “Who is calling?” “I can hear you.” If they push for a “yes”, hang up.

Let Your Voicemail Pickup

It’s as simple as not picking up a call if you don’t recognize the caller ID information. If the call is important, the caller will leave a voicemail.

Trust Your Gut

If it sounds suspicious, it probably is. Remember, any sort of legal or tax matters will more than likely prompt a mailed letter, not a phone call. Trust your instincts and hang up. If you’re worried there might be truth to whatever the caller is saying, hang up and call the organization directly.

Stop Unwanted Calls and Texts

According to the FCC “unwanted calls – including illegal and spoofed robocalls – are the FCC’s top consumer complaint and our top consumer protection priority.” Check out their list of ways to stop unwanted calls and texts by using the latest call blocking technology.

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