With an economic downturn, of course, comes an uptick in creative ways to survive. As always, some of these creative ways include scamming, and I’ve noticed a definite increase in reporting on scams among the various sites I read. What’s amazing is that the mechanics of scamming honestly hasn’t changed all that much, and one of the tools most commonly used for scamming is the phone.
Take this conversation I had on the landline:
Dude: Hello, may I have the last four digits of your Social Security Number?
Me: Excuse me?
Dude: I need to verify who I am talking to.
Me: Who are you?
Dude: I need to verify who I am talking to, can you give me the last four digits of your Social Security Number?
Dude: This is very important.
Me: I’m sure it is. Can you tell me who I am talking to, and what this is regarding?
Dude: I need to…
Me: *hangs up*
I’ve gotten a few variants on this call lately. They ask me for part of my social, or my full name, or my street address, or my mother’s maiden name. One of these pieces of information alone isn’t that dangerous to give out, but together, they can be explosive. And I see no reason to give any of this information out to people who randomly call me and don’t identify themselves or the companies they are calling for.
But I know people who do.
So, Gentle Readers, it’s time for a round of scam avoidance with meloukhia! Because while most of you are probably pretty up on scams, and how they present themselves, I bet you know someone who could use a gentle nudge about how to avoid some of the basic scamming tactics. And it’s good to remember that the phone can be an enemy.
The thing is that a lot of companies like to do business over the phone. Sometimes that business is legitimate. So, you need to determine whether or not a phone call is legit. Sometimes it’s obvious. If someone is trying to sell you something, it’s not legitimate. Even if they say your car warranty is about to expire or you need to retrofit your house or you could get a cheaper mortgage by refinancing with them. People who try to sell you things over the phone, as a general rule, are not to be trusted.
But what about calls from people claiming to be debt collectors, or claiming to represent financial institutions? Someone called my father the other day claiming to be from Chase, which is indeed his bank, and luckily he wised up before he gave out any sensitive information. You don’t want to hang up on those people, or be rude to them, because there might genuinely be something you need to deal with.
So. Here’s what you do. If you receive a phone call which you think is about something legitimate, ask the person who is calling you for ou name, and the name of the company ou is representing. You might also want to ask which department the person is calling from. Explain that you understand that this may be a matter which needs your attention, but that you want to verify that this call really is legitimate. If it is, the person on the phone will understand.
Now. Explain that you are going to hang up and call back.
Hang up. If the person claimed to be calling from somewhere like your bank, pull out the documentation for your bank. Look up the number on that documentation. Call it. Explain that you got a call from “Whoever in whatever department” regarding your account and you just wanted to confirm that there really was an issue. Ask to be connected to that department. If there’s an issue, voila. If the bank says “nope, no problems that we know of,” congratulations, you just avoided a scam!
If the person is calling from a bank you don’t recognize, or a debt collection agency, and claims to be calling on an account you have with them, don’t panic. Banks do indeed sell debts, credit card accounts, and so forth. So it’s entirely possible that someone calling from Bank ABC about the mortgage you thought was with Bank XYZ is actually legitimate, and your bank is slacking on sending you the notification paperwork to alert you to the fact that your mortgage has been sold. Explain to the person that you just want to verify some facts and call back. Ask for the name of the company again, the name of the person you are talking to, and the department.
Call the bank you think that the account should be with. If they sold the account, they will tell you who they sold it to, and they will give you contact information. You can call that company, explain that you received a call from them about your account and were suspicious, but now you’ve verified it. If your bank says that your account wasn’t sold, congratulations, you’ve just avoided a scam.
If, like me, you’ve been getting random calls from debt collection companies for someone who doesn’t live at your house, don’t panic. Sometimes they have outdated records, sometimes people give out the wrong numbers (I’m looking at YOU, Mr. Contractor Who Keeps Giving My Phone Number to Creditors), and sometimes they’re just scammers hoping to terrify you into handing over money or information.
Get the name of the agency, call them, and explain that you are receiving calls for someone who does not live at your residence, and that you don’t want to receive those calls anymore. And hooray, no more annoying calls from debt collection agencies for people who do not live at your house. If they keep calling you anyway, they are at that point breaking the law, and you can report them to the phone company, the public utilities commission, and the attorney general.
And, of course, I cannot recommend highly enough taking a gander at your credit report at least once a year to look for signs of anything suspicious. If you’re in the US AnnualCreditReport.com provides you with the free credit reports you are entitled to by law. Pretty nifty, eh?