Most of the recent discussion surrounding frauds and scams have dealt with online threats.
While cyber attacks are very real and growing, it's easy to loose sight of the threats that take advantage of an older technology – the telephone. That's a mistake, because the telephone is a more useful device for exploiting a scam's most vulnerable victims – senior citizens.
After New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman learned scammers were calling people in his state, pretending to be officials from his office, he started looking into these kinds of schemes. The result is a list of what Schneiderman says are five common telephone scams that are seeing an uptick in activity.
IRS/Tax Collection Scam
The caller claims to be an agent or police officer from the Internal Revenue Service or Attorney General’s Office with one message: you're in trouble that can only be cleared up by sending payment, usually in a way that can't be traced or retrieved.
Assuming you owed money or were in actual trouble, no public agency would call you on the phone demanding payment. When that happens, just hang up.
Jury Duty Scam
The caller claims to be an officer of the court, saying you didn't show up for jury duty. Once again, the message is “you're in trouble.” The trouble, you are told, can be avoided by making a payment.
This scam is a lot like the IRS scam and the way to avoid it is the same. Realize that you would not get a call, and a chance to pay, if you actually missed jury duty.
The caller usually starts by saying “Grandpa, it's me and I'm in trouble.” “Billy?” Gramdpa might ask. Bingo, the scammer has a name. While the emergencies vary, the scenario is usually this: the “grandson” is out of town and needs money fast -- to make bail, or to pay for automobile repairs or medical expenses.
The best way to avoid this scam is to make sure real grand parents know about this scam and how it works.
The caller says you’ve won a foreign lottery and requests that you, as the “winner,” send a check or to wire money to cover taxes and fees. The caller may request your banking information in order to electronically direct deposit your winnings. This is an attempt to steal your identity and will wipe out your bank account.
Make sure seniors in your family know that they cannot win a lottery or contest that they didn't enter. Also, legitimate contests never require a payment.
The caller claims to be a representative of a local utility provider and, because they didn't get your last payment, they are about to cut off service. You can avoid this inconvenience, you are told, by sending payment in some untraceable way. People committing this scam have often gotten personal information from the Internet, Facebook, Instagram or other social media.
If you think there is a slight chance your bill could have gotten lost, hang up and call your utility provider directly. Ask if your account is up to date. Ninety-nine times out of 100, it will be.
Schneiderman says telephone scams are easy to avoid if you think of the telephone as a one-way street. It's okay to give out information over the phone if you made the call to a number you know and trust.
Just don't give out personal information when you receive an unsolicited call. If you receive a call soliciting personal information, just hang up the phone, no matter what the caller ID says.