Like most people, we know that some of our readers have gotten telephone calls from an organization claiming to be from a government agency. Some of them even claim to be from our organization – which is never true.
These callers claim that the recipient of the call has won a grant. These calls are completely phony — we will never call you and request information of any kind. And the government does not make phone calls to notify grant winners - especially people who have never even applied for a grant.
Sadly, however, such fake calls are not uncommon. They also are not limited to the topic of grants. Scam artists know what topics will get your attention. And since they're good at what they do, they can be very convincing. Fortunately with some knowledge and vigilance you can protect yourself from phone call scams.
To do so you must recognize the way scammers operate, the topics they are likely to call you about, the claims they will typically (and convincingly) make, the type of information they ask for, and what you should do.
These things can be learned. Most importantly, you and all members of your household should know never, ever to give out personal and/or financial information over the phone regardless of who the caller claims to be or how genuine he or she may sound. Don’t even believe what you see on your caller ID! Read on to learn more:
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It is completely against the law to make phone calls to commit fraud. Those who do so are criminals and unfortunately they are experts at what they do. Arm yourself with information so you can fight back! Check out our October Newsletter for information aobut a current scam you should know about. And here are some key things to know:
How phone call scam artists operate: Fraudulent callers take elaborate steps to hide their identities, the identity of the company they work for, and the actual phone number from which they are calling. They can even make themselves appear to be from your bank or from some official sounding agency on your caller id. They often work in groups known as “boiler room” operations and make thousands of calls — they only need a small percentage to fall for their line in order to make money.
IRS Warning: It can be pretty scary if you get a call claiming to be from the IRS and sounding very threatening. This has been happening all over the country. They are quite clever and often make the caller id refer to the IRS or use fake IRS badge numbers to identify themselves. Callers may claim you owe money or they may say that you have a refund coming. Either way they will try to trick you into providing personal financial information that lets them get money from your. According to the IRS there are several ways you can tell immediately that the phone call is a scam. These include the caller demanding payment right away; not allowing you to question or appeal the amount they claim is owed; saying that there is a specific way that you need to pay (such as a debit card); threats to bring in the police or other law enforcement agencies. The IRS does not use any of these tactics! If you receive such a call you can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
Typical topics for fraudulent calls include, but are not limited to: government grants, lotteries and sweepstakes, vacation prizes, alleged work-at-home opportunities, loans, medical coverage and health care plans, credit card offers and opportunities to reduce the interest you are paying on credit card debt.
The claims scammers make are very clever and too often effective. Typical claims we are aware of include:
- saying you have been awarded a grant and that they even have your official grant award number;
- congratulating you on winning a lottery or sweepstakes (learn how you might win a real contest in our article about Scholarship Contests!);
- claiming to be calling in regard to your medical coverage, requiring that you give them bank or credit card information in order to avoid losing your benefits;
- saying that they can drastically reduce your credit card balance interest rate. They will not tell you what bank or company they are calling from and if you ask they say something like “the Visa and Mastercard credit department.” Department of what company? If you ask, they will probably get rude…
Information scammers will ask for may include your name and address, social security number, date of birth, bank name and account number, credit card number (with expiration date and security code) and information associated with our identity.
How you can fight back against phone call scams: Most importantly, never give callers the information they are asking for regardless of how trustworthy they sound or appear from the caller id. If they say they are from your bank or credit card company or insurance company or a government agency, hang up and call the official number of that organization if you think the call may be legitimate. Read our article about what government agencies actually award real grants. Put a sign on your phone to remind yourself and other household members to be wary and never to give out personal information! Put your telephone number on the official Do Not Call list (of the DNC Registry). It won’t eliminate these irritating calls but it should reduce them. Note the caller id and if a phone number is provided, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to your state’s Attorney General — they are committed to stopping this sort of abuse and your information may help.