Have you ever gotten a phone call from the IRS? Probably not, since the IRS rarely calls taxpayers and never does so without first sending a notice in the mail. But in recent years criminals impersonating IRS agents have called about 3,000 people and fooled them into paying more than $14 million. And that’s just one of many phone identity theft scams you need to be aware of.
These days, phone scammers are especially crafty. They can alter caller ID numbers to make it look like they’re calling from the IRS or a credit card company or other official organization. They use fake names, bogus badge numbers, and well-rehearsed call scripts. And they have access to phone number lists for the most vulnerable targets, including the elderly, people who don’t speak English as their first language, and newly arrived immigrants.
Along with the IRS swindle, here are six other common phone scams to be aware of:
- The fake charity scam, in which a caller requests a donation for a good cause.
- The free prize scam, in which a caller says you’ve won a prize of some kind and have to pay a fee to collect it.
- The healthcare scam, in which a caller will offer low-cost medical alert systems, prescriptions, or other healthcare-related benefits.
- The credit or loan scam, in which a caller offers a low-interest loan, credit card protection, or similar advantages in order to obtain private information such as your Social Security number.
- The debt collector scam, in which a caller impersonates a debt collector to obtain payment and private information.
- The sham investment opportunity scam, in which a caller offers to put your money into a can’t-miss investment.
It’s helpful to know about these common types of phone scams so you can recognize them and hang up immediately. But if you’re not sure if an offer is legitimate, remember that it’s probably a scam if:
- The offer sounds too good to be true
- The call comes before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., the legal hours for telemarketers
- You’re pressured to act immediately
- You’re asked to “confirm” your credit card, checking account, or Social Security number
- You’re asked to pay a fee upfront
No matter how much a caller pressures you to act quickly, remember that you have every right to get offers in writing. And if the caller refuses to do that, you can bet you’re being scammed.
The FTC offers more tips on how to identify and deal with phone id theft scams, including putting your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry.