Phone fraud affects mobile and landline users.
A recent study showing that 17.6 million Americans lost $8.6 billion to fraud conducted over the telephone in the last year should be a wakeup call to consumers, Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises.
The study, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of a company called Truecaller, shows the pervasive nature of telephone scams, which can affect mobile and land-based phones. The pollsters said the average loss reported by victims was $488. Actual losses could be larger because some consumers never check their phone bill for fraud or they fail to report the fraud to their phone company or police.
“Internet fraud gets a lot of attention, but old-fashioned phone fraud is still a widespread problem,” said Michelle L. Corey, St. Louis BBB president and CEO. “Consumers should check their phone bills regularly for fraud. They should also be alert to fraudsters who use phony excuses to trick them into revealing sensitive information that could lead to identity theft.”
Fraud conducted over the telephone varies widely. It includes:
Cramming: Unauthorized charges added to mobile or landline phone bills.
Tech support scams: Unsolicited calls from people who offer to “clean” your computer or remove malware. Often, these scammers ask to take control of your computer remotely, which gives them the opportunity to look for sensitive information, such as passwords and account numbers for bank or credit card accounts.
Hang-up scams: Callers from overseas call victims’ cell phones and hang up before they can answer the call. If the victim returns the call, they are put on hold and incur steep charges based on the length of the call.
High-pressure sales: Unsolicited callers selling products ranging from medical alert systems to alarm systems and air-duct cleaning try to get victims to buy on the spot, often by making misleading claims or promises. In some cases, they tell victims that the alarm system is “free” or that it has been paid for by a relative. However, the systems often require customers to sign up for monthly monitoring fees.
Government agency impersonators: Callers may say they’re from the IRS or another government agency, and they ask for sensitive information such as Social Security numbers or bank account numbers to “verify” a victim’s identity or to get them to pay alleged fines, taxes or other fees. In reality, the callers are thieves, who will use the information to steal money or commit other fraud.
BBB offers the following advice for consumers who want to avoid phone fraud:
- Always check your phone bill for any suspicious or unauthorized charges. Ask your carrier to explain any unfamiliar charges and remove services you don’t want or didn’t sign up for.
- Never give an unsolicited caller access to your computer. If you are having trouble with a computer or software, contact the supplier directly through a customer service phone number, website or email address on your bill or on the supplier’s website.
- If you get a cellphone call from an unfamiliar number, check the number online before you return the call. Be especially careful about calls from unfamiliar area codes. Some “one-ring” scams have originated from the following area codes: 268, 274, 473, 809 and 876.
- Sign up for the no-call list, and report unsolicited sales calls to the Federal Trade Commission, which administers the list.
- Be suspicious if a caller identifies himself as from the IRS or another government agency. The IRS sends letters about tax problems to taxpayers by mail. It does not call taxpayers or send them emails. Nor do other agencies contact consumers by phone or email.
- Don’t rely on caller ID to identify a number. Just as email scammers can spoof email addresses, phone scammers have ways of making calls look like they’re coming from a familiar number or even your own phone number.
- Be skeptical if the person calling wants you to wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. Scammers like to receive money that way because it’s almost impossible to trace who got the money and equally unlikely you’ll get the money back.
For more consumer tips or to check out a company’s BBB Business Review, go to www.bbb.org or call (314) 645-3300.