By Owen SullivanDerek Walters was stuck in rush hour traffic when he got the call.
“Mr. Walters, this is Officer Rick Selznick of the Department of Treasury.”
The voice on the other end of the line was a gravelly, pack-a-day voice. It sounded serious.
“We need to have a little chat.”
Rick said Derek owed the government $5,000 in back taxes.
Rick said there was a warrant out for Derek’s arrest.
Rick said Derek was in big trouble.
Derek’s heart dropped into his stomach. His mouth went dry.
He couldn’t go to jail. He had a family, two kids in school and a new job to worry about.
He drove straight to the bank. He was sure there had been a mistake. But now wasn’t the time to argue. He would pay the money to get the warrant squashed and try to get the money back later. He withdrew $5,000 from his savings account and wired it to a bank account provided by Officer Selznick. All the while, never got off the phone with Rick.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Walters. You did the right thing.”
And just like that, Derek had fell for the biggest tax scam in American history.
This week in Money & Crisis, we’ve been investigating a bombshell report that claims almost 50% of all phone calls in 2019 will be scam phone calls. That means that every time you pick up the phone, there’s a 50/50 chance the person on the other end of the line will try to scam you out of your money.
Derek fell for one of the most prevalent scam techniques known as the “back taxes” scam.
“When I was explaining it to my wife, it was obvious it was a scam,” says Derek. “I mean, of course the Treasury Department doesn’t call you up and force you to wire money to them on the spot! “But they put so much pressure on you, you don’t have time to think. It was like an action movie. ‘Do this NOW and the bomb won’t go off.’ That’s why they keep you on the phone. So you don’t have time to think.”
This is a common thread in reports of phone scams. The thieves will use the fear of jail time or financial ruin to manipulate their marks. But today, their attacks and techniques have become so varied, that it’s getting harder and harder to tell scams apart from legitimate phone calls. Sometimes, even saying one word is enough to get you into heaps of trouble.
Today, we’re going to delve the most common scams people fall for and some strategies for beating them.
One of the most common types of scams is known as a robocaller. This is a pre-recorded message — usually that of a pleasant sounding woman — that will try to get you to fork over your credit card information.
They’ll hide their scam behind the pretense of collecting money for emergency relief, local charities and even political parties.
When you hear that pleasant sounding robot’s voice, hang up.
Some of these robocallers will give you the “option” to unsubscribe by
hitting nine on your keypad. Don’t do it. This just tells the scammers
that this is an active phone line to be targeted for more scams.
Some scammers have found the best moneymaking strategy is…
They simply call you up… say nothing… and record anything you say while you’re on the line. The goal is try and get you to say “yes” or anything else that could be used as a verbal contract. They’ll try and use this recording of you saying “yes” to sign you up to expensive subscriptions services.
There are variations on this strategy, where callers will ask you questions to trick you into saying yes, such as “can you hear me?” or “are you a homeowner?”
If you get caught by one of these scammers, know that
your “yes” isn’t a valid contract. They will try and intimidate you and
manipulate you psychologically into paying up. But you don’t owe these thugs jack.
Too Good to Be True
As a rule, if a stranger calls you to tell you “good news” they’re after your money.
Callers will make wild claims of extravagant prizes and free products. But in reality, these “awesome prizes” are nothing more than bait.
Scammers are just buttering you up to get you to listen to a sales pitch or to trick you into forking over your credit card details.
Common claims to watch out for are:
Foreign Lotteries: The winning ticket was purchased in your name or as a gift. All we need is a “small fee” to transfer the funds.
Free or Low Cost Travel Packages: These travel packages often have sky-high hidden fees. While others don’t exist at all. The scammer just takes your money and disappears.
Credit and Loans: These loans might look good up front. But hidden costs and sky-high interest means you’ll end up paying back far more than you bargained for.
Extended Car Warranties: Scammers will find out what car you drive and try to sell you overpriced, worthless warranties.Scam Beating Strategies
- Don’t answer calls you don’t recognize. If it’s important they’ll leave a message. Some scammers will leave a message. But this will give you time to think and google the phone number. Scam numbers will often be listed online.
- If you pick up the phone and suspect someone is impersonating a government employee or legitimate business, say you will call them back and hang up. Instead of using the number they called you from, look up their number online and ask for the person by name. If they protest, it’s a scam.
- Download a scam blocker app. Nomorobo catalogues all the scam numbers and blocks them from connecting to your phone. True Caller
is a similar app that uses its database of 2 billion numbers to
identify incoming calls. True Caller won’t actually block any calls but
it will give you the information you need to screen the calls yourself.
Both apps are available on Apple and Google Play.
“I knew it wasn’t a scam, because they sent me a letter!”
What about you? Have you had any close calls with a scam caller? What was the lie they told you? When did you realize they weren’t legit?
All the best,