Dangerous Phone Scams and How to Protect Yourself

Everyone answers a phone call from a number they don't recognize from time to time. Mostly, these are people who dialed the wrong number, and it's an honest mistake. Sometimes, however, the person on the other line is a scammer and they are trying to take your money. Phone scams are on the rise, and from April 2016 to April 2017, cost Americans around $9.5 billion dollars. These scammers use a variety of tactics to get money from their victims. Let's take a look at some of the common scams out there, and what you can do to protect yourself from them. 

The Tax Scam

One of the most common scams is when a caller claims she's an Internal Revenue Service agent. This fake IRS agent will usually tell you that you owe back taxes, and payment is due immediately. This scam routinely makes the IRS's Dirty Dozen list of tax scams despite being easy to protect yourself from. The IRS has a code it follows when contacting you about taxes, and will never demand immediate payment over the phone. Additionally, it will always contact you via mail first. If you receive a call from someone claiming he's an IRS agent, do not tell them anything. Hang up, and contact the IRS directly to see if you have any tax issues.

The "Can You Hear Me?" Scam

This next scam mostly targets small businesses, and all the scammers are trying to do is record you saying "Yes." The call coming in is usually automated, and asks an innocent question like, "Can you hear me?" Once they have your voice on tape, they'll typically send your business an invoice for some obscure service. If you try to question the invoice or refuse to pay it, they will use your recorded voice as proof that you have signed up for the service. Furthermore, by responding, you confirm there is a real person at your phone number, and the scammer could sell your number to other scammers or telemarketers. The simple way to combat this scam is by not answering any questions. Since it's usually an automated call, just ask a question back, or hang up. 

Fight Back

If you think you've been targeted by a scammer, you should do more than just protect yourself from that one instance. Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC tracks scammers and works with law enforcement agencies to prosecute these criminals. While it isn't a good idea to stay on the line with scammers, try to get as many details about the call as you can. The more information you get, the better the FTC can help end the scam. If the scammer calls from an unknown number, there are multiple ways you can trace where the call came from. With your help, you may save someone else from being a victim.
It's scary to think a phone call could cost you hundreds of dollars, but it happens to 1 in 10 Americans every year. Luckily, it is easy enough to avoid becoming a victim if you know what to look out for.

Image via Flickr by photoloni
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