Being the age we are (#sorrynotsorry), many of us still have landline telephones. Just to get it over with, let me list a couple of reasons we’ve held on to these relics of an era past.
- We’ve had the number for many, many years, and that’s the number that elderly parents or even our grown kids think to dial when they want to speak. So call us sentimental.
- We know that on landlines we don’t get dropped calls, etc., and the reception on landlines is actually better than that on cell phones. So call us smart.
- If there’s a power outage, a landline generally still works, as long as you have an old-school plug-into-the-phone-jack model. So call us prepared.
However, one thing plagues landline users more so than people who have cut the cord. Unwanted calls from marketers and scammers set our phones a-buzzing, sometimes several times a day. On a cell phone, you can block unwanted calls, so they’re not so much of a problem. If you have a Verizon Fios landline, you can also block calls, but the scammers are really good at changing telephone numbers or making it seem like they’re calling from a different number. It’s hard to eliminate junk calls even on Fios.
These annoying scam calls can also be downright dangerous. It’s estimated that phone swindlers steal $36 billion a year from vulnerable parties, especially the elderly, as well as people who are racking up the years but don’t quite qualify as elderly. Americans 65 and older are more likely than any other group to be targeted by the fraudsters, and more likely to be duped according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
You and me? We’re too wise to be tricked. Still, those phone calls can be scary, particularly the ones where there’s a real human voice at the other end of the line urgently telling you that the IRS is after you or you’re going to be arrested for skipping jury duty. Knowing about the three most common scams might help you keep your loved ones from getting fleeced by these illegal schemes.
The Microsoft Scam. The person on the phone says he’s from Microsoft support and that you have a terrible problem with computer viruses. If you reply that you have Apple products, he’ll say that they are support for all computers and yours has dangerous malware they want to warn you about. Stay on the line, and the guy is likely to ask you to view your event log, which will show that you have tons of errors. And yes, there will be. Because that’s what the event log does, and it may look frightening, but it is normal. Again, there is nothing wrong with your computer. The intent of this scam is to sell you what they say is virus protection or malware clean-ups. You’ll have to give the caller a credit card to pay for that: Scam #1. Then he’ll install malware on your computer (because as anyone who has ever dealt with computer support knows, there are programs that can give access to your computer) that will enable his employers to find important personal information: Scam #2. I keep thinking that by now everyone has received this call and knows it is bogus. But even though I have told them that the FBI has tapped my phone to trace them, and they’ve hung up on me, they keep calling back. People are scared of identity theft, and this scheme plays on those fears to swipe important data from your computer.
The IRS Scam. A gruff voice on the other end of the phone SHOUTS that you owe the government money and you will have to pay a heavy fine and serve jail time. “Wait,” you think, “this must be a mistake.” So you press 1 and get to a “real person” who asks for your social security number, birthdate, and other personal information that can be used in identity fraud. At the end, they’ll thank you for setting the record straight, but you’ve already given them the farm for free. Note: The IRS in cases of tax problems still notifies people by mail. And they would never shout at you.
The Jury Duty Scam. So similar to the one above! You’ve neglected your jury duty summons and the marshal is about to arrest you. (Having ridden all the way in from Dodge City. Bad joke.) Yes, it is true that if you try to ignore jury duty you’ll get notice after notice and eventually another notice that asks you to appear before a magistrate or some kind of authority in your county. But no one will ask you for your social security number and birthdate OVER THE PHONE. If you think you might have been negligent about jury service, it’s best to call for yourself. Simply search online for the telephone number — type in “jury duty contact ‘my home town'” — and the URL will have a .gov extension.
The PBA Scam. No doubt that the Policeman’s Benefit Association (PBA) is a worthy cause, providing scholarships to kids whose parents have been killed or disabled while on duty and organizing after-school and sports clubs for needy kids in the neighborhood. But they aren’t the ones making these calls. It’s some guy who acts really friendly and calls you by your first name. All he wants is your credit card number, and when you look at your bank statement, you’ll see your donation has not gone to the PBA. Some credit card insurances will cover this; the fraudster will try to steer you to a card that will not. If you’d like to support your local PBA, stop into your local police station.
Although I get some kind of perverse enjoyment telling the Microsoft scam guy (and it’s been the same guy for the past two years) that he’s about to be arrested, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that as soon as you realize it’s a scam call, you hang up immediately. Any interaction with these calls — including a connection to an answering machine — sends a signal to the scammers that your phone line is live, and you will continue to receive calls, no matter how many times you hang up. It’s also extremely important that you tell anyone you consider vulnerable about these calls. Inform elderly relatives and friends who tend to worry a lot. Help them be more aware. If any say that they have indeed given information, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by phone (877-382-4357) immediately. You can also report the calls to the Do Not Call Registry, although my personal experience is that the scammers are tech-savvy enough to change the numbers from which they call faster than we can type.
Also really aggravating is that back in June 2015, the FCC told phone companies that they can legally block robocalls, though none of the phone companies that I know of have yet taken action. I believe non-profit and political calls are exempt (groan) from this ruling. But it would be terrific to have a firewall to protect us from scammers who use robocalls to transmit an alarming message and then give a number to call back and thus begin the scam. There is no truth to the persistent Internet rumor that marketers will be given access to cell phone numbers.
Nevertheless, landline or cell, I think we all agree with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: “Listening to Congress and the American people, the message is clear: No unauthorized, automated calls. Stop it, and stop today.”