The first line of defense when it comes to protecting your money from a scam call is simply to avoid picking up the phone. Don’t do it. If you don’t recognize the call — or you see words on your screen like “No caller ID” — don’t answer.
Don’t even answer if the caller ID says Internal Revenue Service or Amazon. Scammers love to impersonate well-known government agencies and others to trick consumers.
Too many times, of course, we’re expecting a call, so we rush and pick up before we even look at Caller ID. Or we’re distracted.
Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, told me that one woman shared that the family just sat down to dinner and the phone kept ringing and ringing and so she picked up the phone to put a stop to it.
Now, what’s the second line of defense? Knowing when it’s time to hang up.
Nofziger crafted a list of scenarios and common phrases that you’d hear during scam calls for a fraud watch alert in the June edition of the AARP Bulletin.
The idea, she said, is for consumers to become aware of catch phrases or pitches that con artists are using on phone calls lately. The examples are based on complaints logged at the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline. (The fraud network’s number is 877-908-3360.)
It’s good to pay attention to scam alerts and hang up on callers who claim that someone placed a $900 order on your Amazon card. Or fraudsters who are pretending to be from DTE Energy and requesting that you pay overdue bills via the payment app Zelle, gift cards or Bitcoin.
But, Nofziger said, it also may be useful to understand how some of these pitches are actually phrased.
If you’ve heard some phrases in advance, you might be better prepared to hang up before letting the caller get too far into your bank account — or get to the point where they can convince you to go send money via Bitcoin or gift cards.
Scammers are using predictive dialer software, Nofziger said, that makes it easy to make multiple calls at once and then quickly launch into a pitch when some picks up the phone. That’s why you might hear a pause first after you say “hello.”
Some scam pitches start out saying things like:
- “Hello, is this Mrs. Cook? This is Tom from Genetic Testing Services. Your doctor reached out to us because he’s concerned with the cancer that runs in your family and would like you to take a DNA swab test. The test is covered by Medicare. We just need your Medicare number to process and ship out the order.”
- “Good morning, this is Apple. We are calling to tell you there is a problem with your phone. Someone has placed malware on it. We will need you to download AnyDesk onto your phone so we can help you.”
- “This is DTE and we are notifying you that you have missed your last two payments. And, unfortunately, your electricity will be shut off by the end of today unless you can pay immediately over the phone.”
Remember, too, that scammers have information about you, such as your name and maybe the name of the utility in your area, to sound more convincing.
Watch out for Medicare scams
Genetic testing is one of the biggest Medicare-related scams out there, Nofziger said in phone interview.
Con artists start out mentioning that your doctor now wants another test. Well, you likely just went to the doctor, didn’t you?
Then the con artist attempts to scare you about the possibility of cancer. The con artists also refer to testing for other issues, including dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
The problem? Your doctor doesn’t want you to take this test. But crooks want another way to trick you into handing over your Medicare number to use that information for false billing and other related scams.
“If you have gone to a doctor, they have your Medicare number,” Nofziger said.
Her recommendation: Hang up. Call your doctor to double check, if you’d like, to see if any extra tests are needed.
Another Medicare-related scam: A caller will pretend to offer to ship you a free or low cost back brace or knee brace that is supposedly covered by Medicare.
The Federal Trade Commission warns: “If you give them your information, they’ll use it to fraudulently bill Medicare for braces or other medical equipment. This uses up your medical benefits, which means you might not be able to get the right brace later, if your doctor prescribes one.”
You want to hang up on any calls that claim there’s a guarantee that Medicare will pay the tab.
Remember that you should hang up if someone calls you out of the blue and claims to be from the Social Security Administration or Medicare. You cannot trust Caller ID in these cases because calls can be spoofed to look like they’re coming from Medicare or Social Security when they are not.
Watch out for tricks to access an iPhone or other device
An Apple-related scam is one way for crooks to gain remote access to your phone.
Scammers are impersonating Apple Support and claiming that suspicious activity has taken place. Some say that an iCloud account has been compromised or some other problem exists.
Your best bet is to never Press 1 if you picked up that call. Just hang up.
Many people treat a cell phone as simply a phone. But remember you have a lot of data stored on it. You’ve got social media accounts, possibly payment apps like Venmo, information about where you live.
“Yes, it makes phone calls but it’s also a mini computer that criminals want to get into to download all of your personal information,” Nofziger said.
You want to hang up any time you’re asked for information to access your bank or other private accounts remotely. That’s true if someone says Amazon Security has noticed that someone attempted to order items on your account.
Again, if you think somehow there is a problem, contact Amazon or your bank directly.
The best bet: Hang up, even if you pick up when you know you just shouldn’t have answered that call.