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4 Robocall Scams and How to Handle Them

4 Robocall Scams and How to Handle Them
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Remember back in the day when everyone had landline phones? No sooner would you sit down to eat, get in the shower, etc. when your phone would ring and on the other end was an annoying telemarketer. The widespread use of answering machines and caller ID eased some of the pain. The calls continued, but at least you could screen them.

Fast forward to a new, more annoying way to irritate consumers: robocalls. Most days I received a dozen robocalls. On the day I am writing this piece, I received two calls before noon. One at 8:30 a.m. while standing in the checkout line at the grocery! In case you don’t know, a robocall is a computer-dialed call, with a pre-corded message. Most robocalls are phishing expeditions —spammers attempting to separate you from your money or steal your identity. Not all calls are spammers or annoyances, but most are. You may have received robocalls during this election cycle, for instance.

Robocalls are illegal, unless you have authorized the caller to contact you. What about the National Do Not Call Registry? The rap group Public Enemy had a popular song in the 1990s called 911 is a Joke. I’m thinking of making a parody song called The Do Not Call List is a Joke. Getting on the list does not stop people from calling you, neither does asking them to stop calling you. In many cases, the calls are used to verify that a number is active. Requesting to be removed from their list, simply alerts spammers that you are a potential target for more spam.

We have technology to thank for the increase in robocalls. Lazy telemarketers and spammers don’t have to waste hours manually dialing your number. Instead, they use Internet phone systems, such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to auto-dial numbers. These systems allow scammers to fake the caller ID, so you never really know where the call is coming from. It makes it even harder to pursue legal action, if necessary.

There are many scams floating around today, but let’s look at four popular ones.

  1. The IRS Scam: This con has duped a lot of people out of money. Basically, you receive an urgent recorded call from an IRS “agent”. The agent claims you have an outstanding IRS debt that must be paid immediately. The caller may rattle off a bogus badge number to make it sound like an official call. The message instructs you to call a number and may even tell you that if you ignore the message, they will send police to your house.

If you fall for the scam, the crook will tell you to send money using a pre-paid debit card, gift card, by wire transfer — or even an iTunes card.

If you get a call like this, ignore it. If you have a tax issue, the IRS will always send you a bill first. They will never initially contact you by phone, especially to demand payment or threaten to send law enforcement to your home.

  1. You’re a Winner! : It’s amazing how many sweepstakes and contests I have won that I never entered in the first place. I usually receive at least three or four of these calls a week. My poor son— who does not even give out his cell number willy-nilly —receives at least the same amount, if not more. That’s the problem with robocalls. The auto-dialer either dials numbers from a list or randomly dials numbers. So even if you don’t give out your number, you’re not immune from robocalls.

The calls are variations on the same theme: you won something. It could be a travel package, a cruise, money, etc. All you have to do is call a number to claim your prize. If you call, you will need to verify your identity by supplying them with personal information before you can claim your prize. You may have to pay a small processing fee to claim your “free” prize. This gives the crooks access to your credit card or bank information.

I hope you see where I’m going. If you get one of these calls, ignore it. Do not call back. Today is not your lucky day. You are not a winner. If you don’t heed my warning you will lose money or possibly your identity. 

  1. Lower Your Credit Card Rates: One of the calls I received today was of this type. The calls are always vague, usually from “card services” or “card holder services”. The message assures you nothing is wrong with your account but they need you to return the call. If you do, they will tell you they can lower your credit card rate. Now, keep in mind, only your credit card company can lower your rate. But, if you fall for the scam, you will turn over your credit card information and probably pay a fee for the service. Some people do not realize the call did not originate with from their credit card company and fall for the scam.
  1. Microsoft Tech Support Scam: This scam has been around for a while but people still fall for it. If I had $100 for each time one of these scammers called me, I could go on a cross country road trip. These scammers typically don’t leave messages because of the sense of urgency. If you don’t answer, they will keep calling back until they get you. I include them as robocalls because in most, if not all cases, they are auto-dialing you. If you answer, a recording may ask you to press “1” or hold for the next representative. They are hoping you are curious enough to find out who’s calling.

Anyway, this scam has one agenda— gain remote access to your computer. If this happens, the scammer can steal your personal information, infect your computer with a virus—literally do whatever the heck they feel like doing. Once they gain access, they are in control of your computer.

The caller will claim he (not trying to be sexist but I have only received calls from males) is calling from Microsoft tech support. He will tell you there’s an issue with your computer. Supposedly, the tech departed has detected that your computer is infected with a virus or maybe you need a software update. Either way, it’s an urgent situation that requires immediate attention.

The helpful techie, may instruct you to a website to download a “fix” or if they feel they can walk you through the process of gaining remote access, that’s exactly what they will try to do.

They will try to gain your confidence, they usually know your name, so you may feel the call is legit. However, keep in mind, Microsoft would have no way of knowing if your system is infected. Also, they would never initiate a call to you. Unless you have called them first, they will not call you.

Just like spam email, it’s almost impossible to stop these annoying calls. There are some steps you can take to lessen. Here are a few:

Get on the Do Not Call Registry: I know I said this list is a joke, but it may lessen the number of calls you receive. Also, if a legitimate company calls bypassing the list, you can seek damages against them.

File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC does not handle individual complaints, but if enough people complain about the same business, they can work with law enforcement investigations.

Block Calls on Your Cell Phone: It’s a shame you can’t enjoy life without some yahoo calling you on your personal cell phone. Your carrier should offer the option of blocking numbers. I have A T & T and when I block numbers, they go straight to voice mail.

Use the “Do Not Disturb” Option on Your Cell Phone: If you receive a lot of calls, you may want to turn your privacy feature on. I routinely use this feature. This allows me to work uninterrupted and not get annoyed from the constant calls. I have three exceptions; these calls come through no matter what. For everyone else, unless I happen to look at my phone, I will not know you’re calling.

Finally, relief may be on the way. In September, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Tom Wheeler, asked the telecom community to get on the ball and do something about these nuisance calls. The Robocall Strike Force was created to address this issue. The committee includes representatives from telephone providers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon), and manufacturers (Apple, Nokia, Samsung). We’ll see what happens.



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