The telephone has been around for well over 100 years. Unfortunately, it is a useful tool for scammers. Many people are scammed each year, but you can protect yourself with a few tips.
Seniors are often targeted by phone scammers for various reasons. They are often at home and available to take calls. They likely have good credit or savings available. They are typically trusting of others. Seniors may be intimidated or confused by fast-talking scammers.
Many types of scams are perpetrated by phone. These include: bogus prizes, travel offers, investment offers, bogus charities, phony lotteries, medical insurance schemes, and bogus or overpriced vehicle warranty offers, just to name a few.
Telephone scammers gather info about their victims from various sources. They might know the balance on your mortgage, or what kind of car you drive. They are trained to gain your trust, and if that doesn’t work, they may try to intimidate you.
One common scam is the “relative in trouble” scam. The victim receives a call from someone claiming to be a relative, usually a grandchild. The victim is told the grandchild has been arrested or has had a car accident and needs money to be wired right away. Often the scammer has information about the grandchild and the victim. The victim is instructed to wire the money usingWestern Union or another wire transfer service.
Protecting yourself from phone scams is not very difficult. The following tips will help you avoid being a victim:
- Be wary of calls from unknown numbers.
- If someone calls claiming to be a relative, ask them questions only that relative would know which you know the answer to.
- Never give personal information over the telephone.
- If you receive a call from a company you do business with, such as your bank, call the company back at the number listed on your bill or statement or go there in person.
- Check out any charity thoroughly before deciding to give money.
- Do not make any purchases or commitments if you are told “you must act now” or something similar.
- Never send money to pay for “fees” to collect a prize.
- Use a fraud protected credit card for purchases. Never use money orders or money wiring services.
- Confirm the company is legitimate before doing business with them. Check with the Better Business Bureau.
- Do not pay in advance for services.
- Take your time making a decision. Do not let any marketer pressure you into a commitment on the first call.
- Checking with a trusted financial advisor before making an investment.
- Do not make calls to unfamiliar area codes.
- Keep in mind, just because someone has information about you, it does not mean they are legitimate.
So what should you do if you are the victim of a fraud or attempted fraud? First of all, gather as much information as you can about the incident. Was the caller male or female? Did they have an accent? Did you get a number from caller ID? Next, report it to your local police department. The information you provide may be useful in preventing future crimes. You can place your phone number on the national “Do Not Call” registry by calling (888) 382-1222 or logging on to www.donotcall.gov. Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. Finally, you can contact your State Attorney General.
Community Service Officer John Thomas is a long time resident of Temecula and is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Temecula Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. He can be reached at (951) 506-5132.