Hang Up On Phone Scams
Don’t Be Minnesota Nice to Crooks

By Tim Conaway

My wife answered the phone. A pre-recorded voice said, “Someone is trying to take over your computer. If you don’t act now everything will be lost.” The voice continued with instructions of how to contact a representative who will solve the problem. She has also seen a warning pop up on her computer screen making virtually the same claim.

I answer the phone, and a pre-recorded voice tells me, “We have been trying to reach you about your automobile warranty. It may expire soon.” I am then told which button to press to talk to someone who can help me make sure I am covered. A similar pre-recorded message has told me that they are contacting me about my credit cards. “There is no problem with your account, but you could save.…”

We simply hang up. We know what is up with our warranties, insurance, and credit accounts. But the way the pitch is worded, and the urgency in the robo-voice, combine to make it sound like it is something you need to take care of.

These are just some of the many phone scams, often aimed at the older population, that are designed to get people to give up anything from vital information to actual money. The scams also arrive by an official-looking letter or email that seems to be from your bank. Some of them want you to provide basic information like account numbers, social security information, and so on.

Although the United States government recently cracked down on a major robo-call company, these outfits simply change names, acquire a new set of numbers, and route their calls through a different set of servers. There is a page on the Federal Communications Commission website where you can report the number these calls are coming from, but in the long run it won’t stop the incessant annoyance.  Even an incoming call with a local area code and prefix could originate in China and get routed through a server farm in Arizona.

The emails get past Spam filters by the way they are worded, as well as the subject lines. Actual letters sent through the mail for these purposes constitute mail fraud, but by the time you report these to the postmaster the scammers have designed a whole new approach to their come-ons.

So the best defense against this constant annoyance is to just hang up, shred, and delete. That seems simple but many people, particularly over 55, are just too darn polite. The scammers count on this. If you actually press “1” or whatever and get connected to boiler room operator, they try to make you feel guilty about not being forthcoming with your account information, social security number and other identifying data.

Robo-calling has replaced much of the phone scamming, but there are still live callers who press harder the longer you stay on the line. On live calls, when they ask, “Am I speaking to James?” and you answer, “Yes,” they record your response as proof that you agreed to the call.

These people often want you to make a direct transaction, such as a contribution to a charity that sounds worthwhile, like police benevolent society or veterans’ aid. They want you to update or upgrade a service you might have. You might be told that you have won a prize, but need to pay taxes or fees up front. Some calls or emails might claim that a relative is overseas and needs money right away.

Banks and other financial institutions, the Internal Revenue Service, legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes, and real companies do not ask for your financial information over the phone, nor do they charge you any money up front for prizes or services. Real businesses do not ask that money be sent by wire transfers or reloadable money packs.

Don’t be pressured. If someone gets you on the line and says that you have to act immediately, take that as a cue to pull back and think about what is happening. If an unsolicited caller tells you that you face legal trouble for not acting right away, know that you are being lied to. When you get any enticement or “warning” notice in the mail (snail or electronic), contact the institution that is mentioned.

There is a wealth of information available from the Minnesota Attorney General at www.ag.state.mn.us. If you feel that you have been cheated or subjected to identity theft, call the Attorney General office at (651) 296-3353. The United State Postal Service postal inspectors can be contacted or (877) 876-2455, or get more information at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

See more information on scams here.

Most of all, don’t feel impolite or guilty for hanging up on unsolicited sales calls, shredding documents written to make you sound like your finances are in arrears, or shooting bogus emails into the trash. Instead, feel victorious. If everyone rejected these scams, the lowlifes couldn’t afford to continue.