Phone scam

Republican Eagle file photo

During the pandemic, the U.S. has seen a rise in phone scams related to COVID-19 tests, vaccines, health insurance benefits and retirement policies, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Older adults are continuing to be the main target of scammers through phone calls and now more prominently text services.

Since more seniors are online shopping, scammers use fake shipping and order notification texts to trick them into handing out personal information.

Local residents have been wondering how they can recognize phone scams and the answer to that is: education.

Being educated on the possible ways a scammer might present themselves will help you identify that a call is a scam before anything bad happens.

The Federal Trade Commission released updated information on phone scams in October 2020 and offered the following ways to recognize a scam and common examples. 

Recognize a phone scam

  • There is no prize: The caller might say you were “selected” for an offer or that you’ve won a lottery. But if you have to pay to get the prize, it's not a prize.

  • You won’t be arrested: Scammers might pretend to be law enforcement or a federal agency. They might say you’ll be arrested, fined, or deported if you don’t pay taxes or some other debt right away. The goal is to scare you into paying. But real law enforcement and federal agencies won’t call and threaten you.

  • You don’t need to decide now: Most legitimate businesses will give you time to think their offer over and get written information about it before asking you to commit. Take your time. Don’t get pressured into making a decision on the spot.

  • There’s never a good reason to send cash or pay with a gift card: Scammers will often ask you to pay in a way that makes it hard for you to get your money back — by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, prepaid card or cash reload card, or using a money transfer app. Anyone who asks you to pay that way is a scammer.

  • Government agencies aren’t calling to confirm your sensitive information: It’s never a good idea to give out sensitive information like your Social Security number to someone who calls you unexpectedly, even if they say they’re with the Social Security Administration or IRS.

Common examples

  • Imposter scams: A scammer pretends to be someone you trust — a government agency like the Social Security Administration or the IRS, a family member, a love interest, or someone claiming there’s a problem with your computer. The scammer can even have a fake name or number show up on your caller ID to convince you.

  • Debt relief and credit repair scams: Scammers will offer to lower your credit card interest rates, fix your credit, or get your student loans forgiven if you pay their company a fee first.

  • Business and investment scams: Callers might promise to help you start your own business and give you business coaching, or guarantee big profits from an investment.

  • Charity scams: Scammers like to pose as charities. Scams requesting donations for disaster relief efforts are especially common on the phone. 

  • Extended car warranties: Scammers find out what kind of car you drive and when you bought it so they can urge you to buy overpriced — or worthless — service contracts.

  • “Free” trials: A caller might promise a free trial but then sign you up for products — sometimes lots of products — that you’re billed for every month until you cancel.

  • Loan scams: Loan scams include advance fee loan scams, where scammers target people with a poor credit history and guarantee loans or credit cards for an up-front fee. Legitimate lenders don’t make guarantees like that, especially if you have bad credit, no credit, or a bankruptcy.

  • Prize and lottery scams: Callers will say you’ve won a prize, but then say you need to pay a registration or shipping fee to get it. But after you pay, you find out there is no prize.

  • Travel scams and timeshare scams: Scammers promise free or low cost vacations that can end up costing you a lot in hidden costs. And sometimes, after you pay, you find out there is no vacation.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that if you are ever skeptical that a phone call could be scam related, just hang up. If you accidentally hang up on a friend and or family member, they will understand.

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