Telephone Scams

Telephone Scams are Getting Worse

Don’t provide personal information to callers!

What I find most disturbing about the number of telephone scams, is that they are getting worse. It is scary to think that call centers exist purely for ripping off people. I can only fathom that a sufficient number of people keep falling for the scams, giving up personal information and money that funds these operations.

There are a number of scammers out there that will call, looking for a gullible person to provide valuable personal information from which they can profit. They use public information1 and social engineering in an effort to gain your trust.

Notable Telephone Scams

The following examples are recent telephone scams that I personally have received on my landline and on my cell phone.

Electric Service Disconnect

Random caller will present themselves as your local power company confirming a service disconnect order for failure to pay. If you are not paying your electric bill, the energy supplier will send you lots of letters threatening disconnect before actually disconnecting service. They are not going to call you and “verify” the scheduled disconnect. After making the threats, they will just do it.

In the case of the call I received, they made the mistake of pronouncing my suppliers name incorrectly. That was the first flag. When I asked them to confirm the company name, I pronounced it differently, but still incorrect. They repeated my version to confirm. I asked why my service was scheduled to be disconnected and they explained that I haven’t paid the bill. I explained I cannot pay the bill, the bank would reject a check written for zero dollars, as my last statement actually has a credit on it showing that I owe nothing. “Sir you haven’t paid your bill, we’re disconnecting service.” I told her to do what they need to do. She finally realized I wasn’t falling for this trick and hung up.

Hang up and call the phone number on your billing statement.

Of course to be sure, I called my electric service provider at the phone number on my statement and verified that I am current and there is no disconnect order on my service.

Credit Card Rate Reduction

These clowns will call saying they are from MasterCard Visa, or simply Card Services, offering to reduce your rate. The telephone scammer will insist that you provide a credit card number, including expiration, billing address and security code, so that they can verify it is you and that you are eligible for the rate reduction they are offering.

Mastercard and Visa are two separate organizations and they would never call a cardholder for any reason, let alone a rate reduction. They are just an overhead processing company for credit card transactions that licenses their brand to financial institutions. An individual financial institution might call you for an issue with your account, but they will identify themselves with their name, not as Visa or Mastercard or just Card Services.

These rate reduction telephone scams are often trying to harvest your credit card information for using in fraudulent activities, or to charge a ridiculous amount and not provide anything to you

To see where this goes, I gave one of these scammers some bogus information. We were a significant portion through a call when they told me about how there would be a one time charge of $349 for processing the rate reduction. When I questioned the charge, they explained that the amount is “refunded” just in the interest savings in the first few months. They caught on to the bogus information when they tried running the card and it was declined.

Vehicle Warranties

Your car’s warranty is about to expire. These telephone scams occur through the mail also. They want to scare people into buying a warranty through them, usually for around $1000 for a couple years. Then in the fine print explain the high deductibles and super restrictions to actually gain warranty support.

In these cases, the scam isn’t as much about tricking you to provide personal information from which they can profit. It is more about tricking you to simply give them money for a service they are likely to not honor.

Computer Virus or Error Repair

Don’t Do It!

Caller claims to be from Microsoft, or maybe even Google, Dell, Symantec or some other recognizable name in the technology realm. The caller will tell you that your computer is sending them errors and that they want to help you fix it.

The caller will usually tell you to install their software so that they can fix the issue. They might walk you through looking through the computer’s event viewer and identify circumstantial events as being what they are talking about.

Report these scammers to Microsoft

The software that they want to install on your machine can serve many purposes, including remote accessibility, key logging, data theft or other malicious purposes. They will sometimes insist on credit card information for charging this malicious software.

Just as reflected in my Malware Article – No technology company is going to call you to tell you your computer is sending them errors or putting viruses on the internet, unless you contact them first for help. Microsoft has established a website for reporting these scammers, even if they are claiming to be someone other than Microsoft.

Apple Account Disconnect or Warranty Expiration

There has been an increase in telephone scams related to Apple iCloud acounts. These scammers are trying to get users to provided their iCloud credentials to verify they are who they say they are.

Just like as mentioned in the previous section, Apple is not going to call you unless you call them first. What’s more is they are not going to ask you for your login credentials

Vehicle Repossession

Most people do not want to lose their car. Some telephone scams are geared to take advantage of your fear of losing your car. They will offer to take payment over the phone, either via credit card or wire transfer.

Relentless Calls

Often these callers are relentless. They do not care about “Do not call” laws. They will call multiple times during the same day or week. They often spoof phone numbers2 to protect their identity and trick people into answering their call.

What to Do When They Call

Don’t Answer the Phone

Let them leave a message. If your financial institution needs to talk to you for real, they will leave a detailed message, including callback information. Call the company’s customer service number listed on your monthly statement and query about the call received.

Use a Blocking Service

NOMOROBO is a service that is provided free for Verizon customers. Verizon sets up a simultaneous ring for your phone number to also ring at NOMOROBO. If the number has been flagged as a bad number, they’ll intercept the call and disconnect it. You only get one ring on your telephone. I have tried NOMOROBO on my mobile phone and I was disappointed in its effectiveness.

Hiya is an application for blocking junk calls on your mobile phone. I use this and it is tolerable. Sometimes it works well, other times it does not. What is nice about it is that it integrates with the cell phone and you can easily report a number from the interface.

Do Not Give Personal Information

Simple put – do not give personal information to a caller. Hang up and call the number listed on your monthly billing statement, if the caller claims to be from a company with which you do business.

Search the Internet

Google Phone Number Search

Using your favorite search engine, search for the phone number that showed on your call. Be sure to format the search like your normal local format, like (215) 555-1212 for US phone numbers. Several sites will appear that tend to show the “safe” status of the number. This is helpful information, but you are also looking for the actual company to show up. For example Discover should show up for (800) 347-2683. Be suspicious of any phone number that does not lead you to the website of the company the caller identified as being. This doesn’t mean the number wasn’t spoofed. Still don’t give personal information.

  1. Name and Address, along with major transactions such as house and vehicle purchases are a matter of public record.
  2. The caller can send a signal to trick Caller ID into displaying a different number.

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