Raise Your Phone Scam Awareness

by | Aug 31, 2021 | Wealth Management

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Phone scams are on the rise, costing Americans over $20 billion in 2020.(1) In the US, 27% of aging adults live alone,(2) and they’re the most likely to be targeted for scams.(3) Unfortunately, many people don’t discover scams until it’s too late. If you find yourself on the other line with a fraudster, will you hang up or be swindled out of your hard-earned savings? Learn some tips to protect yourself from phone scammers.

What are the Three Top Phone Scams

To protect yourself against future phone scams, it’s important to understand them. Here are three of the most effective approaches used against aging adults.

  1. Government impostor

The last organization we want to get a call from is a government agency. A government impersonator might even give you their “employee ID number” to sound official. They might even have information about you, like your name or home address.

Why this works

If we think a government official is calling, it’s natural to think we might have done something wrong. Did I forget to send or sign a required form? Scammers often say they work for the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare. They’ll give you a compelling reason why you need to send money or give them personal information immediately.

2. Grandparent scam

The victim gets a call from someone posing as his or her grandchild. This person explains, in a frantic-sounding voice that he or she is in trouble and needs money (e.g., there’s been an accident, arrest, or a robbery). To add to the urgency, the caller might claim to be hospitalized or stuck in a foreign country. They may even throw in a few family particulars, gleaned from the actual grandchild’s social media activity to make the impersonation even more convincing.

Why this works

The impostor offers just enough detail about where and how the emergency happened to make it seem plausible and perhaps turns the phone over to another scammer who pretends to be a doctor, police officer, or lawyer to back up the story. The scammer impersonating a “grandchild” implores the target to wire money immediately, adding an anxious plea: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”

3. Robocall phone scam

These computer-generated calls are first trying to verify that you are a real person. This may entail just recording your “Yes” answer to “Can you hear me?” for further use, possibly to authorize bogus charges. They may leave a voicemail about an Amazon purchase made on your account, asking to call back to clear up a problem. If you answer the phone and there is a long pause, that could be because the call is being switched to a call center of trained phone scammers—that is a good time to hang up.

Why this works

If you get a voicemail about a problem with your Amazon purchase, we might be relieved someone found the problem. If you call back, a scammer will seem willing and able to help solve the problem. While they may seem friendly and helpful, they’ll be trying to gather personal information to swindle their victims’ money.

Tips to Help Protect You from Phone Scams

Train yourself to avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. If it’s important and relevant to you, such as a call back from someone that you telephoned, the caller will leave a message. If you do pick up the phone, use suggestions from this list:

  1. If a caller asks who you are, or if this is [your name], ask them to identify themselves and their company first, and where they’re calling from. If you don’t recognize them, ask for a phone number you can use to call them back. (In many cases, you won’t get one—a red flag.) You can also google the company “calling” you then call them to confirm their legitimacy.
  2. Be cautious about caller ID numbers that seem legitimate. You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is using Caller ID spoofing. Beware: Caller ID showing a “local” number does not necessarily mean it’s a local caller.
  3. If you answer the phone and the caller, or a recording, asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  4. Don’t respond to any questions asked by a robocall that tries to verify your name. For example, “Is this Robert?” answered with “Yes.” They may record your response and use it to authorize purchases.
  5. Set a password for your voicemail. If a hacker gets your phone number, they may be able to gain access to your voicemail if it’s not password protected.
  6. Talk to your phone company about available call-blocking tools and check into apps that block unwanted calls on your phone.
  7. Realize that it’s highly unlikely that a government organization would ever contact you by phone. If you get a call from someone posing as a government official, hang up. If needed, they’ll contact you by mail.

Protect Yourself

Don’t answer calls from unknown callers. If it’s a legitimate caller, they’ll leave a message. Explore settings on your mobile phones and try turning on the “Silence Unknown Callers” feature.

Also reference our prior blog post on “Tips for Preventing Fraud” and BFSG’s client alert “Protect Yourself, Protect Your Data”.

  1. Protecting Older Consumers, Federal Trade Commission, 10/18/20
  2. Older people are more likely to live alone in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world, Pew Research Center, 3/10/20
  3. People who live alone among the likely to be scammed, Cadillac News, 10/17/19

Prepared by Hartford Funds, “The Data Doesn’t’ Lie – Raise Your Phone Scam Awareness”, March 5, 2021. Author: Laurie Orlov is a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker, and founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch.  Edited by BFSG, LLC.

Disclosure: BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.

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