By Lori Melton
Caller ID can be a great tool to help you try to avoid unwanted calls on both your cell phone and land line. However, some phone scammers are savvy and count on the fact that sooner or later, curiosity might compel us to actually pick up a call we don’t recognize. Even worse, some scammers target elderly people and use scare tactics to make them think they are calling from an important agency, like the IRS.
A 2014 Today report on an online survey by The Harris Poll showed 17.6 million Americans lost an estimated $8.6 billion dollars to phone fraud over a 12-month period. Those numbers are terrifying.
How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to phone crimes? The straightforward warning here is: If you don’t recognize a number – whether it’s foreign or domestic – then don’t take that call. Here are some other important tips to avoid getting scammed on the phone.
Don’t Return Hang Up Calls
If you see a number you don’t recognize on your Caller ID, let it go to voicemail. If the call is legitimate, they will leave a message and you can decide if you need or want to call them back. Chances are, if the number is unfamiliar and they didn’t leave a message, it’s either a phone scammer or a solicitor of some kind trying to make a sale.
If It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Probably Is
Some phone scammers lure victims in by saying you’ve won a vacation or an online drawing you entered. If you don’t remember entering any sort of contest, then trust your instinct and know chances are extremely slim you were just randomly picked for a “prize.” Most of these calls result in paying some sort of fee for a “special, fabulous, getaway deal.” Don’t fall for this. Better yet, just don’t pick up the call.
Don’t Be Frightened or Intimidated by an “Official Authority”
Unfortunately, there are all kinds of scammers out there who call and impersonate important agencies like the IRS, the US Treasury, the FBI and more. A lot of them send recorded messages in which they threaten arrest, or wage garnishment and other terrifying actions if you don’t return their call. If you get a call like this, don’t return the call. Instead, report the call to local authorities, the agency they claim to represent, or the FBI.
Never Give Personal Information Over the Phone
This advice sounds like common sense. But, you’d be surprised how many people are actually tricked into giving their name, address, age, and even bank account or credit card numbers over the phone. Again, the simple rule here is: just don’t do it.
Phone scammers reel their victims in a variety of ways beyond vacations and official authorities. Some common ones include calling in the name of charitable causes, with “amazing” business opportunities, to offer an extended warranty on a car or major appliance, or because you’ve suddenly “won” a foreign lottery. Again, trust your instincts. If anything seems suspicious or makes you feel uncomfortable, hang up, or don’t take the call to begin with.
Don’t Take or Return Robocalls
Ignore pre-recorded messages with instructions for you to “press 1” for more information. Instead, report the number and the message to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) by filing an online report or calling 1-888-382-1222.