Step away from your phone! If you don't know these new scams identified by the FCC, you could be a target.
At this point, everyone has probably received a scam call (or a thousand). And by now, you’re probably savvy about more than a few of them. For example, someone impersonates your credit card company or the IRS in order to get your personal information, or an automated voice tries to get you to say “yes” so that word can be used as a voice signature for fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, scammers are only getting trickier and casting wider nets with newer scams. That’s why the FCC recently created a “Scam Glossary” to alert people to the many scams out there—and explain how to avoid them. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.
If you receive a call from a number with an 809 area code, it might appear to be coming from the United States, but it’s not. Those calls are actually originating from another country—the Dominican Republic, to be exact. The caller will leave an urgent voicemail for you, and when you call back, he or she will try to keep you on the line for as long as possible in order to make you rack up large international charges. Another problematic three-digit area code is 232, which goes to Sierra Leone. The best move here is to simply not answer the phone when you’re getting a call from a strange number—and especially a strange area code. Your phone isn’t the only place that people will try to take advantage of you. Make sure you know these 10 common online scams—and how to avoid them.
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This scam often targets native Spanish speakers and has scammers pose as utility-company employees calling to request immediate payment or they will shut off your service. The payment is most often requested through a prepaid card so the charge can’t be contested. If you receive this type of call, you should contact your utility company directly to discuss your account rather than making a payment with this person over the phone.
Most people don’t know quite when their car warranty or insurance is up, which is what makes this scam so universal. Here, the caller will impersonate your insurance company or pretend to be selling an auto-warranty service. But the problem is that in some cases, the scammer may have actually acquired information about your existing policy in order to make the request sound more credible. The goal of this scam is to get your credit card information. In general, it’s always a good idea to call warranty services and the like yourself rather than making purchases through an unsolicited phone call. In general, your car is a magnet for scammers. Be aware of these car-repair scams to watch out for.
If you receive a call from a number that looks almost identical to your own, then you’re likely being scammed. Neighbor spoofing is when someone calls from a number that has the same initial digits as your own, leading you to believe that it is someone local when it is, in fact, really a scammer. If you answer, they will try to get personal information or money from you.
Is there a warrant out for your arrest because you missed jury duty? That’s what this scammer will claim, in addition to pretending to be a member of law enforcement. The script will go something like this: They’ll tell you that you’ve missed jury duty and are subject to a fine that you need to pay by wiring money or using a gift card. Rest assured, the real police will never ask you to pay a fine by using a gift card.
Smishing is short for “SMS phishing,” and for this one, you’ll be getting a text, not an actual phone call. In the text, the person will claim to be from your bank and provide a link for you to click on. When you do, the scammer will attempt to trick you out of money or personal information. Here are some more texts you should delete immediately.
For these scams, you’ll get a robocall or one from an actual person claiming to work for a health-insurance company. They’ll say they can get you discounted insurance, which often involves a “medical discount card” that ends up not being accepted anywhere. While this scam happens quite a bit during open enrollment season, it can occur year-round. Most of these calls are illegal, and you can actually file a complaint with the FCC if you get them.
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Warning: Your computer has been infected with a virus! So goes these tech-support scams, which are some of the oldest in the book. After this lead-in, instead of removing the alleged virus, the person on the phone will walk you through a process that actually places a virus on your computer. Just how common is this scam? Microsoft has estimated that around 3.3 million people are scammed each year, leading to an annual cost of $1.5 billion and an average loss of more than $450 per individual.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’ve already fallen victim to a scam, don’t believe it when someone calls and attempts to help you recover money from that scam. In a recovery scam, someone calls a person who has already been scammed and offers to help—but that help actually involves scamming that same person again. Don’t miss these 10 ways to protect yourself online so you never fall victim to scams.
Like all scams, this one targets people who are vulnerable—in this case, current or recent graduates. Here are some common variations on the theme: Someone calls a recent grad and offers a scholarship that doesn’t exist, or says they’ll help to find a roommate or a non-existent house rental. The goal of the scam is to acquire personal information, sometimes financial information, that is then used by the scammer.
FBI arrest/deportation scam
A helpful note: If the FBI is planning to arrest you, they’re not going to call you first. But it can still be jarring to get an official-sounding call from someone claiming to be from this government office. In this scam, the caller will say he’s from the FBI and has a warrant for your arrest, or from Immigration and plans to deport you. The caller will ask for you to make a payment in order to rescind the warrant.
In this type of scam, a caller will claim that he can either add or remove your business on Google for a fee. The callers are not affiliated with Google, have no power to do what they claim, and are simply collecting payment for a service that they will not do. According to Google, while you might get a call from an operator for the purposes of development, customer service, or support, the caller “will never ask you for payment information over the phone or guarantee you favorable placement in [their] products.” These phone scams might be hot and new right now, but beware of these more “classic” phone call scams that can steal your money, too.
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Last year, identity theft accounted for one-fifth of all complaints to the Consumer Sentinel Network, making it the most common consumer fraud in America. According to the FBI, identity thieves use consumers' personal data -- birth date, Social Security number, name, bank account information, etc. -- to conduct other illegal activities, such as credit card or mortgage fraud. Learn more here.
Telemarketing fraud encompasses a range of scams designed to convince you to part with your money. An unknown caller tells you you've won a prize, or a vacation, or the lottery, or that there's a check for you that must be delivered by courier. Bottom line: Don't give money to anyone unless you can confirm their identity. And if the idea of winning a contest you didn't enter sounds strange or a little crazy -- that's because it is. Learn more here.
In the wake of the real estate market's collapse, scammers are posing as lawyers offering distressed homeowners "assistance" with getting a loan modification in exchange for a fee. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law advises struggling homeowners to steer clear of costly lawyers and instead use a free or low-cost, HUD-approved housing counselor. It provides a free, searchable database you can use to find one in your state. Learn more about other housing-related scams here.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, "scammers come up with all kinds of convincing stories to get your money. And many of them involve you wiring money through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram. Why do scammers insist that people use money transfers? Because it’s like sending cash: the scammers get the money quickly, and you can’t get it back." Learn more about these scams, and how to avoid them, here.
There aren't quite as many credit card scams as there are different credit cards, but sometimes it feels like it. Ranging from debt consolidation cons to selling your debt outright to identity theft, the list is varied and complicated, but you can take some concrete steps to protect yourself.
According to the FBI, Nigerian letter frauds offer the recipient "the 'opportunity' to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author -- a self-proclaimed government official -- is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria ... The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a 'propensity for larceny' by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons." Learn more here.
According to the federal government, "deceptive pitches for investments often misrepresent or leave out facts in order to promote fantastic profits with little risk. No investment is risk-free and a high rate of return means greater risk. Before investing, get written information such as a prospectus or annual report." Click here for tips on identifying potential scammers and here to get more information from the FBI about internet scams.