In 2012 it seems that scammers have not only become more advanced in their techniques, but also more brazen.
Maybe you’ve received an email that says you won a new flat screen TV, or maybe you’ve gotten a phone call from somebody that said by answering a survey and providing some information, you’ll get a check in the mail.
A good portion of consumers could probably see these types of scams approaching from light years away, because getting something for nothing usually makes our consumer antennas stand up in skepticism.
But when someone contacts us and speaks of things close to our hearts, like donating to a charity, we may lower our antennas and think, “Hey, I’ve heard about this particular cause before and I personally know people who have contributed, so the call must be legitimate.”
Scammers are aware of these occasional consumer slip-ups, so instead of using the old congratulations-you-won-a trip line, they may tug at your emotions in another way, like asking you to donate towards a political campaign.
Cameron Camp, a security researcher at the cybersecurity company ESET, and an expert on phone and Internet scams, says that political con games--especially this election season--are a growing threat.
Election season scams
“There are two main kinds of phone scams exploiting the election season,” he said in a ConsumerAffairs interview.
“First is a scam that pretends to be a political survey to get around Do Not Call List restrictions and offers a free cruise for participation. Consumers who go along with this scam are asked to provide their credit card to pay “non-refundable port fees” or other fees to complete booking of the “free” cruise.
"We documented this, with a picture of the cruise ship on our blog. In this case the scammer wanted a government port tax of $59.00 per person."
“The second kind of phone scam is when someone pretends to be calling for donations to a political campaign or candidate but is in fact just a con artist,” Cameron said.
But how does one tell a con artist from a real political affiliate? Because any skilled con artist can transform into an identical version of what they’re pretending to be.
See, many times a crook, thief or con person has already figured out how they’re going to con you before they're out of bed and their feet have hit the ground in the morning.
And once they do get out of bed they make a bee-line to the telephone or Internet to start their day-long attempts of gaining money, personal information or both.
Cameron says that nowadays political scammers use free speech as an effective way to get around the protection of Dot Not Call lists, and he also says that scams related to elections are just portals to larger and more intricate types of cons.
“Companies are not [only] using free speech as a loophole,” he says. “They are abusing the free speech exemption to the Do Not Call List, namely calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors. Hence the political survey which leads to the cruise scam.”
Although the Internet is still one of the most popular con artist hangouts, the telephone remains a useful weapon for those looking to cheat you.
According to a report released by Pindrop, a company that deals with the prevention of phone scams, there were 1.3 million successful cons related to the telephone in just a six month period in 2012. And this year alone, phone scams have increased by 29 percent, according to the report, and a fraudulent call is placed in the U.S. more than five times each minute.
Many people might say by using common sense one could successfully avoid being the victim of a con, but sometimes common sense gets defeated by our emotions, and very few things pull at our emotions like the causes we believe in.
Plus, sometimes when discussing a cause in the heat of the moment, that heat has the potential to melt away some of our good reasoning.
A few simple steps
Even though that may be, Cameron says by just doing simple things one can reduce the chances of a scammer getting their way.
“I said it before: Only make donation by check, in person or by mail, to individuals and organizations you know are legitimate,” he says. “I would avoid giving credit card information over the phone.”
“A more extreme but quite effective measure is to stop using a landline. According to the FTC, telemarketing to cell phone numbers has always been illegal in most cases because FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers,” he said.
With the Presidential race nearly coming to a draw, the next couple of weeks promise to be filled with even more election emails and annoying phone calls, so be on your best guard against fraud.
Of course another way to avoid being scammed over the phone this political season, is to not answer it.