Who’s that Calling?? Beware of Scams over the Phone


Financial scams are prevalent and criminals use a variety of avenues to trick you into giving them your hard-earned money. We discussed woodchucks last week, home repair or lawn care scammers who go door to door in your neighborhoods.

This week, we caution you against phone scams. Phone scammers often prey upon your emotions and commonly utilize threats and intimidation to scare you, overwhelming concern and anxiety for the welfare of a loved one and/or a perceived position of authority or special knowledge to have you drop your guard and just trust them, when you otherwise might not.


How the scam generally works:

  • Phone call goes out to any number of people.
  • Many will leave a message on your voicemail if you do not answer the phone.
  • They present their “issue” and advise they need you to pay or give them money.
  • They ask you to either wire the money to a distant/foreign location or purchase a money or cash card from your local convenience store. If you purchase a cash card, they ask you to call them back and provide the card number and accompanying PIN over the phone.
  • Many times, they will call again and require more money for some seemingly valid and related reason and continue to call several times until they have exhausted all the victim’s funds or the victim realizes they have been defrauded.


Common phone scams. Keep in mind, there are variations of these and types not listed:

  • Computer Software Service Scams: Claim they are from an IT firm, such as Microsoft, and your computer needs to be fixed or patched immediately. The caller will say it can be done over the phone and request remote access to your computer.
  • Vehicle Warranty Scams: Claim they are from your automobile’s warranty department and you’ll lose coverage if you don’t renew immediately.
  • You’ve won or been specially selected for a prize: Claim you’ve won or been selected for an award. They ask you for money, stating you’ll get far more back. Or say you’ll get a free gift if you make a purchase. They will ask for, or want to “confirm,” your credit card or bank account info.
  • Power Company Scam: Claim to be from your power company and threaten to shut off your utilities if you don’t pay immediately.
  • IRS/Legal Action Scams: Claim they are from the IRS, a government agency or a law firm and you owe money. If you do not pay immediately, they threaten the police will show up at your door and arrest you.
  • Police/Sheriff Scams: Claim they are law enforcement and you have an outstanding criminal warrant. If you do not turn yourself in immediately, you will be arrested. They then advise you can pay bond immediately over the phone to avoid going in or being arrested.
  • Family Member Critical Emergency Scams: Generally claim they are your teenaged/young adult-aged family member (grandson/daughter, nephew/niece). They tell you they’ve been arrested, in jail and need money, either for bond or court fees. Will ask you to wire money to a non-existent attorney or bondsman, or possibly to a friend who will pay the alleged fines so they can be released.**The scammer could know your name, your family member’s name, nicknames commonly used between you and other accurate details about you and your family (i.e. actual college they attend, state in which the real family is located, etc.)**


How to protect yourself:

  • If someone threatens a lawsuit or arrest if you do not pay, call the police.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Scammers play on your emotions to victimize you: Fear, worry, love, excitement, joy, embarrassment and they induce great stress. Do not be pressured by anyone to make a decision.
  • Do not respond to unsolicited telephone offers (or e-mails).
  • If someone wants to sell you something you didn’t plan to buy, say no and hang up.
  • Never give out personal information over the phone; never “confirm” personal info, it is a trick to get it from you.
  • Never pay/give money to someone promising you will get even more money back (or receive a free gift).
  • Scammers have evolved with technology. They create fake websites, companies and e-mails so when you diligently research who they are, they appear real.
  • Scammers also spoof their phone numbers so your caller ID will show a real law enforcement or government agency or company phone number. This way, when you research it, you find the number actually does belong to an agency, and drop your guard.
  • Report anything suspicious to the police and/or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Join the National Do Not Call Registry and consider not listing your number in the phone book.
  • Periodically research common scams online. Many sites such as the FTC, IRS and Federal Communications Commission contain information to help protect you.

Talk to your family and friends about these types of scams. Be alert and suspicious when receiving phone calls out of the blue. It may be tough when it’s a family member on the other end but remember, scammers target your weaknesses and try to catch you off guard or have you drop your guard. For other safety tips and reporting information: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/financialcrimes/