Tech Sense: Telephone Scams and Robocalls
We all have telephones in our homes or pockets but this technology is abused by scammers to the point that many of us no longer want to answer our phones unless it is a number that we recognize.
I work out of my home and I get many phone calls every day. Only one or two of these calls are legitimate. Most are from people trying to scam me out of money or private information. Let's look at the scams are encounter the most.
Credit Card Scams
I get several of these calls each day. Most begin with a robotic voice, "Hello this is Alice"... asking me to hit one if I want to speak with someone or 2 to be put on the "do not call list". The best course of action is to hang-up. Do not hit 1 or 2; just lift the phone and put it back on the hook. They are trying to steal your credit card data and get you to spend money on a service that you do not need.
IRS Telephone Scam
You receive a call from the IRS stating that you owe some amount of money to the IRS and it must be paid immediately or officers will come shortly to put you in jail. If you answer the call the instructions are often to go and purchase gift cards and meet an agent to accept the cards you purchased. Please don't fall for this. The IRS does not call people; they send a registered letter by U.S. Mail. The call is always a scam and the gift cards will be sold for cash to benefit the scammers.
Tech Support Scams
Computer Tech Support scammers claim that they are from Microsoft or your computer manufacturer. They tell a story about messages from your computer claiming it has a virus and they want to help fix it. Fake steps are taken to demonstrate the problem trying to convince you to give them remote access. Once they have control they add their own malware to the computer. They insist that you need pay for them to remove the malware. Instead of repair they typically install fake repair tools and more malware. Do not fall for this! Remember that tech support doesn't ever call unless you called them first. If your computer really does need repair, take it to a local repair company.
Other Common Scams
Calls for Back Pain or Pain Management are scams trying to use you to help them steal from Medicare and Medicaid. Vacation Scams try to convince that you have won a vacation prize for only $299. Most of these turn out to be flat out fraud. Time share scams either try to get you to sell your timeshare for an up-front fee or try to get you to purchase one for thousands that can often be purchased for a few dollars online. Duct cleaning companies call to offer a service that the HVAC industry says is not needed for most homes. These companies frequently have no valid local address and are not licensed by the state as required.
First and foremost, never for any reason, no matter how good the offer sounds give your credit card, banking, personal information, social security number, home address, or any other personal information to these callers over the phone. It is best to simply lift the receiver and hang it back up.
Now let's look at how to limit or protect against these calls.
Do Not Call List
Make certain your numbers are listed on the government Do Not Call List. You can add your number and report scam calls at https://donotcall.gov. Legitimate telemarketers check numbers against this list before they dial a number and not call unless they can demonstrate a business connection to you as a customer. There are exceptions for charities, surveys, and politicians to make robocalls. Mobile phones and business lines are never supposed to be called unless you have given written permission. You can also add these numbers to the Do Not Call List.
The Do Not Call List worked well for a while but is easily ignored by scammers who do not obey the laws. Technology can be used to block many scam calls. Nomorobo (https://www.nomorobo.com) is a service that blocks many scam callers after the first ring. Nomorobo only works if your phone service is provided by an Internet phone provider like Verizon Fios or Comcast. The service is free for most digital landlines and $2.00 per month for mobile phones. Unfortunately it does not work with Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) over copper wire.
Many recent versions of Android provide a setting a setting to automatically identify spam callers by showing a red background for scam calls so you can immediately refuse to answer. Android also allows you to block numbers through the call history list. A long press on a number will bring a menu and selecting Block from the menu will block that number from both calls and text messages.
There are several phone apps that also block incoming scam calls to your mobile phone. Nomorobo has an app that works well for $2 per month. Hiya is free app for blocking calls on you mobile phone that has earned a good reputation. Both of these apps are available for Android and Apple phones.
Mobile Phone Service Providers
T-Mobile provides free services that can automatically identify or block most scam calls. These services do not require an app and can be enabled by following the information found here: https://www.t-mobile.com/resources/call-protection. AT&T offers an app to provide similar services for AT&T customers. Verizon allows manual blocking of a limited set of numbers and Sprint provides a limit blocking service for a $2.99 monthly fee.