Recognizing & Dealing with Phone Scams

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Consumer Reports is warning people about a recent spate of phone scams with callers claiming to be agents of the Social Security Administration. These fraudsters are using caller ID spoofing to make it seem as if they’re calling from 800-772-1213. While that is the actual number for the SSA, it’s not the SSA calling. Unfortunately, it’s trivially easy to fake your calling ID number these days. Have you noticed how so many robocalls are from numbers in your area code, or even from your own neighborhood? That’s no coincidence. (One of the funniest caller ID’s I got recently just said “Your Doctor”.)

The scammers claim to be agents of the SSA and try to get you to divulge personal information. They will tempt you by saying it will allow them to increase your monthly benefit payments or scare you by telling you they may have to cut your payments if you don’t give them the information they need. Apparently, this information includes your social security number. Now, how much sense does it make that the Social Security Administration would not have your social security number?

Computer Support Phone Scams

Another common scam these days is for computer support. The caller claims to be from Microsoft, or Dell, or your ISP, or some generic computer diagnostic firm. They will tell you that they’ve noticed strange behavior or a virus or performance issues with your computer, and offer to help you fix the problem. These are almost surely scams. Whatever you do, don’t install software or let them control your computer remotely – and don’t give them your credit card info.

Note that many legitimate computer support technicians will request permission to control your computer remotely, but in those cases, you will have called them (not the other way around). While this is always a little scary, in most cases they will only be allowed to see your screen and point to things (not actually control your system).

How to Handle Suspected Phone Scams

So, how do you handle a suspicious phone call? The simplest solution is to just let all calls from suspicious or unknown numbers to go to voicemail. If it’s really an important call, they’ll leave a message. It also neatly avoids having to deal with any sort of high-pressure human interaction.

If you do happen to answer the call, and you believe it’s not a legitimate call, you can always just hang up without saying a word. However, if you’d like to take steps to curb this scourge, you can do the following:

  1. Have a ready, urgent excuse for why you can’t talk right now. Maybe you just heard your child or pet cry out, or your oven timer just went off, or whatever.
  2. Ask them for their company’s name, their own name (or agent ID), and a callback number. Write down the time and date of the call, too.
  3. Then submit a claim with the Federal Trade Commission using this form.
  4. You might also want to file a report with the company or agency that they’re claiming to represent, as well.

You can always add your phone numbers to the National Do-Not-Call list, but I’ve done this and I still get tons of calls.

With tax season fast approaching, beware of IRS scams, as well.

It’s worth noting that robocalls are the #1 complaint to the FTC and it appears they may finally be ready to take some action. We’ll see.

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