Phone Scams

Police department people, you all are more than familiar with this information. There may be some tips at the end that you might be interested in.

If you’re around my age (old) you probably miss the days where people just used the phone to prank call you or just breathe heavily on the other end of the phone line…what was up with that? Now NOBODY wants to answer phone calls unless they absolutely know who is calling. I also miss the days of not having a phone continuously tethered to my person. Hang out with my friends all day in school and go home and call them and tie up the phone line all night hanging out with them on the phone…or practice for my Spanish tests. Simpler times. I miss those.

I’m sure everyone has had at least one phone call from a scammer by now. They come in the form of IRS scams, warrant threats, debt collectors, charities, grandparent scams, free vacations, and tech support calls, just to name a few.

The IRS scam is very common right now around income tax time, but scammers do it all year around. They call and say you owe a large amount of taxes they are going to arrest you and usually give you a badge number. They want you go to go Wal-Mart and do a Moneygram or Western Union transfer…or even iTunes gift cards. It’s crazy. Don’t fall for it. Just hang up. Don’t engage with these people. You can’t help the police by going along with it because in some cases they’ll tell you someone will meet you, and then no one ever shows up. Scammers also call to say there is a warrant out for your arrest or say they are a debt collector and essentially run you through the same steps as the IRS scams. I had a person call me and tell me he was calling because Microsoft detected that I was having computer problems and wanted me to allow him access to my computer. I knew it was a scam, but I let him know I was a PC technician and could handle any problems with my computer. He decided to argue with me so I hung up. It got a little humorous, so I do have a story but I should have just hung up and not wasted my time.

Grandparent scams are especially sad to me because I hate seeing well-meaning grandparents being taken advantage of. (The following is an under-dramatization) The callers will say call and say, “Hi Grandma, it’s me.” The grandma will say, “Is this you, Jason?” or whatever their grandson’s name is. Then the caller will say, “Yes, I’m in trouble. I got in an accident. Everyone is okay but I damaged the car. I need to borrow $4,000.” The scammer basically casts a wide enough net, meaning they make a TON of calls, and inevitably someone falls for it. Grandma sometimes reports that the caller said he was their grandson Jason and they do have a grandson named Jason, so how did they know that? Oh Grandma…

We all want to help our families if we can, so to avoid falling victim to this scam, you can set up a secret code word that only your family knows to verify it’s them. This might sound silly, but if you have a lot of grandkids, chances are you might think the caller sounds like one of them. It obviously happens. Or you can tell the person you’re going to call their parents and verify the story. Don’t worry about hurting your real grandchild’s feelings, because they will get over it. And it’s probably not them anyway. It’s much better than you shelling out $4,000 in Wal-Mart gift cards because little Jason needs a new engine. Sounds silly, but it’s very real. If you end up falling for any phone scams and lose money in the process, make sure to report it to the police.

This is already longer than I wanted to write, but I have to mention the “Can you hear me?” scam. The scammer (a recording) will call and say something like “Can you hear me?” or “I’m having trouble with my phone, can you hear me okay?” and they want you to say yes so they have a recording of you agreeing to something that ends up being a financial charge against you because they put your yes with something else….there are different ideas about whether this scammer can actually do anything with your “Yes.” Some people say there is no way because they have to have more information about you to be able to access your accounts and know how to get into them, like how do they know who you are, right? Well, there is a possibility that they do have other information on you through other nefarious methods and this is just something to further ruin your life. There are some very experienced (and famous) tech people with great reputations saying it happened to someone they really do know, and they say it’s real. So who am I to say it’s not? Snopes.com says it’s “Unproven,” which is neither true or false. Just be careful. When I get the calls…which happen all the time and sometimes I accidentally answer my phone, I just don’t say anything and then nothing else gets said on the line because your voice also triggers the rest of the call. Hang up.

To avoid getting some of these calls (or just telemarketing calls) make sure you register your phone numbers at the National Do Not Call Registry. It won’t stop all of them, but it might help with some. Also, Google will give you a free phone number that you can set up on your smart phone. Use this number when filling out things where you’re uncomfortable with sharing your phone number. It’s a great way to screen your calls. Then if you start getting too many calls, you can just change your number. It also transcribes voicemail and has a ton of other awesome features.  For more info on this…Google Google Voice. Haha.

Feel free to share this email with your family members or friends, if you want.

–Lisa Bednarz
IT Director
City of Centerville, UT


Infobytes note: Lisa Bednarz is the IT Director at Centerville, Utah. She has been sending weekly security updates to all the employees and elected officials in Centerville. Centerville is a long term and premier client of Infobytes. They graciously let us share this important and timely security updates with the rest of our clientele.