Beware these Common Phone Scams

close up of elderly person's hands holding a phoneScammers have an arsenal of effective strategies they use to take advantage of innocent people. They use phishing emails, door-to-door conning, and scam phone calls. Seniors are especially vulnerable to phone scams, since they often don’t use email and aren’t as aware of the scams out there. Many seniors get confused or intimidated, and easily fall prey to these despicable criminals.

If you have a senior in your life, it’s important to arm them with the information they need to protect themselves from phone scams. Share this post with them so they can identify common patterns and know when to hang up.

Don’t rely on Caller ID

Caller ID is a helpful tool, but don’t trust it blindly. It’s easy for scammers to set their phone number to appear on Caller ID with any name they’d like. They can use a fictitious name, the name of a company or medical provider, or a government agency.

Even if the Caller ID looks legitimate, you have the right to be suspicious. If someone calls claiming to be from your credit card company, for example, you should hang up and call the company’s number on the back of your card to check if the phone call was legit.

Your family member is probably not stranded in London

Scammers like to use the “disaster” strategy to separate people from their money. They call you, pretending to be your family member or friend in great distress. They tell you a sob story involving accidents, travel issues, or even jail. Another variation on this theme is when someone with a sinister voice calls you and informs you he’s holding your loved one hostage. The common thread in these scams is that they shamelessly exploit your love and concern to make you send money right away via wire transfer.

If you get a call like this, it’s crucial that you stay calm and level-headed. Ask the caller questions that only the relative they’re pretending to be would know.  You could also try calling your loved one on their regular phone number. If you’re not sure, do not hesitate to call other relatives or friends who can help you verify that it’s a scam.

Microsoft doesn’t know you exist

A common scam is the purported Microsoft (or Apple) technician who kindly informs you about the terrible virus you have on your computer. He so graciously offers to log in to your computer to fix it—and then proceeds to hold your system hostage for a high ransom, steal your identity, give you a virus, or all of the above.

Many elderly people don’t have computers, so this scam isn’t relevant to them, but there are many other seniors who do use computers regularly. What you need to remember is that legitimate companies will never call you to report issues with your computer. They don’t have any way of knowing whether or not your computer has an issue. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Apple, hang up right away.

The government doesn’t call you unsolicited

Another popular scheme is to pretend to be from the government. Many people will immediately obey directions from “the government,” and these crooks capitalize on that tendency. As we mentioned in a previous blog, some scammers specifically target seniors by pretending to be from Medicare.

Other common scams involve the IRS. These scams are especially prevalent this time of year, when people are busy filing their taxes. These criminals claim to be from the IRS, and order you to make an immediate payment—via wire transfer, of course—or face arrest. The caller may know your basic information, such as your name and address, and the Caller ID may seem legitimate.

Remember that the government does not make such phone calls. Medicare, Medicaid, or the IRS will not call you unsolicited. They generally send letters, sometimes repeatedly if you do not respond. They also don’t demand specific forms of payment or threaten to arrest you. If you’re ever unsure if a phone call, email, or letter is legit or not, call the specific government agency on their official 800 number to check.