Whatever happened to the old days when a con artist only wanted to steal a few bucks? Today's telephone scams will still empty your bank account, but the scammers of today are after a more lucrative payoff -- your identity.
"Consumers simply cannot let down their guard" says David Wood, consumer advocate and founder of the Phone Scam Watch, a free service to warn consumers about telephone scams. "The American consumer -- and especially every senior citizen -- must realize that a scammer doesn't play by the rules. In fact, the people that perpetrate these scams have no rules."
DialingForDeals.com, which tracks phone scams as they appear in the United States, defines the phrase "phone scam" as a telemarketing scam. Not included are incidents of "phone fraud", such as using a stolen mobile phone, slamming, etc.
The top 10 phone scams for the period January 1 to December 15, 2005, are:
10. Foreign Lotteries: Although these scams typically occur through the mail, the phone scam version is still alive and well. You should be advised that playing any international lottery by phone or mail is a violation of U.S. federal law. This includes Canadian lotteries.
9. Veterans Scam: Numerous veterans received calls claiming their personal information was required because of a supposed change to the V.A. drug coverage plan. However, there were no changes to the plan.
8. Stolen Account Numbers: There were a few variations of this scam, but generally you will receive a call from someone claiming to work for a "security firm" associated with your bank. The caller will claim that your account numbers have been stolen; therefore before the caller can assist you, you will need to verify your numbers.
7. College Credit Card Offer: Many university students reported a scam where the caller offered a special "college credit card offer". The caller will ask for your Social Security number so the application can be submitted over the phone.
6. Gift Certificate Scam: Typically the caller claimed to be awarding a $500.00 Wal-Mart or K-Mart gift certificate. To claim the "prize", you will be asked to pay a $4.95 "processing fee" by providing your checking account or credit/debit card numbers.
5. Medicare Part-D: Scammers saw an opening to take advantage of seniors with bogus signups for the new Medicare Part-D plan. Seniors not only received fraudulent calls but also had unwelcome guests at the front door.
4. Jury Duty: A widespread scam where the caller claimed that you missed jury duty. One version of the scam said that an arrest warrant had been issued, and when you would insist that you didn't receive a notice for jury duty, the caller would ask for your personal information to verify they were speaking to the correct person. Another version of the scam would ask you to pay a fine by using your credit card or checking account.
3. Shopping Spree: A popular scam where the caller would claim that you won a shopping spree. To receive the shopping vouchers, you will be asked to pay a "processing" or "shipping" fee, typically by providing your checking or credit card numbers over the phone.
2. Account Numbers Online: A very widespread scam where the caller claimed to work for a "security firm". You will be informed that your checking account numbers have been found posted on the Internet. Before the caller can help you get these numbers out of the public eye, you'll be asked to verify your account numbers.
1. Government Grants: This was the most common scam in 2005. A typical version of the scam worked like this: The caller claimed that you won a $12,500.00 federal grant and all you must do is pay the taxes, either by wiring the money or by providing your checking account numbers over the phone.
Common names used in many of the above scams include: Advantage America; American Grant Information Center; Department of Government Grants and Information; Government Grant Info Guide; Information Verification Agency; International Verification Department of Missouri; National Advantage Group; Patient Care Group; Public Computer Systems; and Star Communications.