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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Update October 2017
Grants are certainly not the only topic of phone call scams. Late in 2016 the FTC reported that one operation in Phoenix had gotten millions of dollars out of people by claiming people had won free cruises or even that were calling from Amazon and could help people make lots of money in commissions through a website you can use to link people to Amazon to make purchases. And callers also often use official government sounding names in order to fool you. Of course “winners” had to pay fees up front and they never received any commissions or financial payments of any kind. We also recently heard of a caller who claimed to be Verizon rewarding a customer with cash for their great payment history. In return they got all kind of information that could make the customer vulnerable to being hacked or worse. They sounded very official and knew all about the person’s numbers and devices. So if you get such a call — do not talk to them. And change your Verizon password right away.
Update June 2017
A particularly diabolical twist on the phone call scam involves getting you to answer a simple question “Yes”. It is always very innocent — like “Can you hear me?”. When you reply yes, your answer is recorded. They now have a recording of your voice saying “yes”. They might use that to prove you agreed to their terms. Worse, they could use that along with other personal information they have about you — and hopefully you have not provided credit card or banking information. Some systems use your voice as a password so you may have just handed them a key to your funds. Be very aware when you get a call that sounds too good to be true — like telling you that you’ve won a cruise, or that they have a $9000 grant in your name. Do not even say “yes” to a simple question!
Update February 2017 — IRS scams on the rise Tax season is fast upon us! It’s time not only to get busy doing your returns but also to be super extra alert to those who are out to take advantage of you. The IRS has warned that “phishing” schemes — where tricksters use fake emails to throw you off guard and convince you to provide information they can use to get at your funds. There was a big increase in this activity in 2016 and the IRS is warning about it continuing to be a big problem in 2017. The senders pretend to be someone you trust (a company or an individual) and even create fake websites to gain your confidence. They are typically after your identification data, money, passwords and of course social security numbers. So be very very careful about unexpected emails that look even remotely like they could be a fake — and don’t give out any information.
News November 2016 Just this past month police busted a scam phone call operation that was operating out of India. They had nine call centers with as many as 700 people making calls to Americans and posing as the IRS. They would accuse their targets of not paying taxes owed and threaten them with jail if they didn’t send cash right away. The calls were quite intimidating and close to 9000 people fell for it and paid over $47 million as a result. The IRS has received close to 2 million complaints from those who received the calls over the past several years. Hopefully this bust will end much of this particular type of call but don’t let up your guard. This is obviously a good way for criminals to make money and they will think of other calling schemes!
News July 2016 A recent survey provided by the Consumer Federation of America and investigators from the North American Consumer Protection Investigators reflects what you probably already know: scam phone calls are driving everyone crazy - in fact they earned the title of the worst of the top ten complaints of consumers. Still worse, they’re cheating too many people out of their money. More than 200,000 complaints were filed in 2015. Be extra alert whenever you answer your phone, because these types of calls are on the rise. The most important and obvious clue that it’s a fake call is a request that money be sent immediately — along with requests for personal information a valid caller would already know. The IRS will not call you, real tech support people don’t contact you out of the blue, no one will call you to say you’ve won a grant you didn’t know about, and a real tech support person will not call you regarding an important computer problem you did not report. Be careful!
News April 2016 It's April so it's not only time for taxes (yikes!) but also time to be extra careful about phone call scams. There has been an increase lately in fake calls pretending to be from the IRS. They claim to be fro the IRS and tell you they have a court case against you and you must call right away or risk being brought before the court. Of course if you call they will require payment of some sum right away. Do not fall for this! And never give out personal, financial information over the phone. Read the “IRS Warning” below and be aware!
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.