UNITED STATES—Your phone rings and you glance at the Caller ID – which reads, “IRS.” You answer, only to hear that “an arrest warrant will be issued within the next 30 minutes if you don’t respond to this call. If you don’t answer, it leaves a message with an “agent’s name and badge number.” When you do call back, the “agent” informs you that you have “back taxes due from several years ago in the amount of $3,300.” While not wanting to serve the arrest warrant, the agent offers to clear up the matter in minutes.
This happens to people thousands upon thousands of times each day, costing consumers over $10 billion each year. Unfortunately, it’s mostly seniors who fall for this scam, as they’re not as savvy as younger people and are proud of their impeccable payment record with the IRS.
While that “agent” assures people it’s probably just a math error and must be cleared immediately, the warning sirens go off the minute the agent tells you he/she is not allowed to take credit cards – and mailing in a check is not allowed because you’re in arrears. Instead, they ask you to wire the money – and they’ll even provide you with the nearest Western Union wire service location that’s close to your home.
Telltale Signs it’s a Scam
Despite the IRS spending millions of dollars each year alerting consumers to the potential phone scams, a percentage of people who get these calls will wire money as directed. It could end up wiping out the life savings of senior citizens, and often does. It can also be a text or email, but they’re as phony as the phone calls.
The first thing to remember is that the IRS will NEVER call you about any money that’s owed. EVER. They may send a certified letter, with a copy of your tax return and an explanation of the money owed.
The second thing to remember is that if in fact you really do owe money to the IRS, they are more than happy to have you mail in a check or use a credit card to pay for any arrears.You will never be asked to wire money to the IRS.
Phone scams aren’t the sole province of the IRS – they’re all over the board. FBI phone scams are rampant, as are federal student loan scams, Publishers Clearinghouse scams, Medicare scams, US Treasury Department scams – the list goes on and on. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a complete list of current scams on their website, so check it often and see if any new ones have popped up.
Tell the Authorities
It helps if you report your scam phone calls to the proper authorities, so they can monitor, track and hopefully catch the cybercrooks in the act. Learn how to report phone scams, and report them directly to the proper agencies. That includes reporting the call to the FBI, FTC, FCC and the IRS.
How to Avoid Phone Scams
There are many ways to avoid being scammed by cybercriminals, and just knowing what they are will give you a head start. Most experts agree that by taking preemptive action, you’ll minimize the chances of being scammed.
First, sign up on the Do Not Call Registry. Legitimate telemarketers will not call you if your number is registered, so if you’re getting calls, you know it’s a scam. Also, remember that cybercrooks can make the Caller ID any number they want, so don’t pay too much attention to the number that shows up.
Another must is to remove your personal information from people search sites. You can do this manually, by visiting the over 100 sites that store and sell your information to third parties. However, each site has their own “opt-out” protocols, so it could end up being extremely time-consuming. Another option is to have it done automatically by OneRep, a software with advanced algorithms that will find all people search sites and remove your personal and sensitive information. That’s where many cybercriminals get their names, personal data and other information from. By having it removed, you’re minimizing the chance of them coming back at you with an updated scam.
Here are some more tips – never call back any messages left for you by an 800 service, no matter who they say they are in the message. If you do in fact talk to someone, never say “yes” to any question that they ask you. Here’s the reason: if you say “yes” and someone is recording your voice, that person can always use your response in a phone scam scenario. It can “affirm” that you are agreeing to something that you’re really not agreeing to do.
Gift cards are another big scam approach. You’ll be asked to purchase a gift card and told that a portion of the money will be given to a charity. If it’s an unsolicited call, hang up. It’s nothing more than another scam.
Here’s something else: many scammers pretend to be legitimate charities soliciting funds. Never agree to donate to a charity after receiving a phone call. Simply tell the caller you don’t respond to Charity phone calls and you’d be happy to visit their website to determine whether or not you wish to make a donation.
As a matter of course, if you suspect the call may be a scam call, hang up! The longer you stay on the line, the more opportunity the scammer has to get back at you and trick you into doing something you don’t want to do. It feels good to hang up on these folks, so please – do it!
Never go to any website that someone directs you to, and NEVER download any software that someone asks you to download, regardless of the reason why. It could end up loading your computer with malware, something you’ll live to regret.