"Can you hear me now?" is the once-popular tagline of Verizon commercials, but it's also the headline of a new scam. Scammers making robocalls will ask some innocuous question. Once the targeted person says "yes," a recording is made of the response and it is used to sign up the target for unwanted, expensive services. It's a scheme that's been targeted at businesses before, but it has now shifted targeting to individual consumers across the country.
Robocallers have gotten increasingly sophisticated over the years. They're doing everything in their power to mimic real sales calls. A pleasant-sounding voice might ask an innocuous question, like "Can you hear me?" or "Are you a homeowner?" The objective is to get you to say "Yes." That's all the scammer needs.
The scammer may then send you an invoice for a service. They may also bill your phone number directly, or attempt to make a charge using your credit card. When you call to contest the charges, the scammer will use your recorded "yes" to intimidate you into paying.
Even if the scammer doesn't successfully bill you, your "yes" can still be hurtful. Answering the phone and talking demonstrates that your number is a viable target for telemarketing. The scammer may bundle your information with other victims and sell it to other potential scammers.
The easiest way to avoid being a target in this scam is not to answer your phone if an unknown number calls. For many people, though, that's not an option. If you're job hunting, freelancing or even selling things on Craigslist, unknown numbers represent opportunities. Not answering your phone could mean missing out on the job of your dreams.
Until you can figure out if you're talking to a real person, it's best to avoid giving straightforward answers. If someone asks if you can hear them, say "I can hear you just fine." If they ask a personal question, ask them why they want to know. Both of these responses will throw a robocall or a call center employee off script, giving you an opportunity to see if it's a real person calling with a real opportunity or a scammer wasting your time.
It's also worth repeating that you should never give out personal information over the phone. Often, phone scammers will claim to be a representative of some government entity as an attempt to scare you into turning over your information. Don't believe them. Unless you initiate the call, government officials don't do business over the phone.
You can also register your number on the federal Do Not Call registry at www.donotcall.gov. That way, if scammers do call, you can report the number to the FTC. These complaints help the FTC to find and shut down people illegally using the phone system, and hopefully putting an end to these scams once and for all.
There's no way for a scammer to use a recording of your voice to do any serious damage, according to researchers at snopes.com. It's more likely that the scammer will try to intimidate you into paying by claiming that the voice recording is authorization of charges. Know your rights: Unless you've given someone your payment information and explicitly authorized them to charge you, you're not responsible for paying those bills. Don't be intimidated into giving up payment information because of threatening language. These scammers can't actually do anything to you.
It's still a good idea to keep a careful eye on your account statements and phone bills, just in case. Most phone providers have what's called "bill-through" service, where third-party charges will be placed on your phone bill. It's how some apps work, but it's also how an alarming number of scams work.
Through a practice called "cramming," third parties can pile unauthorized charges on your phone bill. By keeping the charges small and the names innocuous, third parties can rack in millions across the country for services that consumers don't want and didn't agree to purchase. While illegal, it's still a widespread problem because voice authorization can make it more difficult to dispute the charges.
Make sure you understand exactly the purpose of each item on your phone bill. If there's anything you don't recognize, call your phone provider immediately. Disputing charges early is the best way to get them off your bill and keep that money in your pocket.
What's your best practice for identifying robocallers? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," wrote noted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Our computer technology is certainly advanced enough that, to many, it looks like magic. As a result, the kind of wizardry that those with technical savvy can perform can be simply baffling.
That confusion is exactly what some scammers have come to rely on for making their money. The Federal Trade Commission is warning about a range of scams featuring phony tech support. From fake phone numbers to malware-loaded scanning software, these schemes all have one goal: compromise your technology to steal personal information and money.
Even if your tech skills are legendary, these scams are set up to push your buttons. If you want to browse the internet in peace, you need to be vigilant. Watch out for these three tech support scams.
Data breaches always have two sets of victims. There are the people who were immediately affected, and then there are those who are victimized in the confusion following the breach. Yahoo's data breach appears to have found a new group of the latter.
Scammers have created a variety of replica sites that convincingly look like Yahoo help sites. Some of these detail common account problems and then offer a phone number for "Yahoo Customer Care" or something along those lines. If you call, one of several things might happen: You might be asked for credit card information to pay a support fee. You might be asked to allow remote connections to your computer. Or, you might be asked for account information, including your username and password.
Regardless of what the scammer requests, the help they provide is bogus, and the damage they can do is very real. Yahoo is very clear: It will never charge for tech support, nor will its employees ask for your password or to remotely connect to your computer. Most other internet platforms follow similar rules. While pay-for-support lines do exist, they're increasingly rare in an era of video tutorials and widespread internet access. Of course, you should never allow anyone you don't absolutely trust to make a remote connection to your computer.
Most commonly, this scam begins with a banner ad. A flashing icon on any ordinary webpage claims to have discovered infected files on your computer. A list of suspicious-sounding file names flash past, including some that are actually on your computer. The ad will inform you that you need security software and provide you with a download link.
As with many other downloadable software offerings, what happens next is largely a mystery, but it's most likely going to go badly. The piece of software may log your keystrokes so a hacker can steal your passwords. It could also allow remote access to your computer, allowing the scammer to riffle through your personal information. It could also be "ransomware," which encrypts all information on your computer until you pay a fee, which can sometimes be pretty hefty. Some of these scammers even have the gall to charge for the download!
The best way to protect yourself here is to be proactive. Don't download files from websites you don't explicitly trust. Get a reliable anti-virus software and a malware scanner, and run them regularly. That way, you can confidently ignore pop-ups that claim your computer is infected.
The FTC has also reported an uptick in unsolicited "tech support" calls. These scams usually start with a call from an unknown number. If you answer, the caller will tell you he's detected a problem with your computer. You'll be instructed to provide him with remote access so he can fix it. The person on the phone will even walk you through the steps.
Once the scammer has control of your computer, he'll do any of the things described in the previous scams. Worse yet, it's incredibly hard to reverse this process. You may end up losing your computer in the process!
No tech support company will call you about a supposed monitoring of your computer. If you get an unsolicited call from an unknown number about your computer, just hang up. Better yet, report the number at donotcall.gov.
Despite how advanced it looks, technology isn't magic. It operates by a predictable set of rules. Learning just a little bit about how it works can help keep you safe.
What's your best tip for staying safe while using tech support? How do you get the best advice while avoiding scammers? Let us know in the comments!
Tax season is here, and unfortunately that also means that “tax scams” are here as well. Every tax season, there are more schemes targeting innocent taxpayers through phone calls, emails, in person, and even through social media channels. Some call to “verify” tax return information over the phone, some demand payments for a fake “Federal Student Tax,” and some impersonate tax preparers. Whatever the scheme, taxpayers need to vigilant against the scammers. Here are several tips to avoid being a victim:
Scams can sound convincing. These con artists use fake IRS identification badge numbers that appear to be legitimate. They usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
Scammers might have your information. use online resources to get your information. They may know a lot about their target such as the victim’s name, address, and even the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number. They will use this information to make the call sound official.
Scams use scare tactics. If the victim doesn’t answer, the caller will likely leave an “urgent” callback request. If the victim does answer but refuses to cooperate, the caller may become hostile and insulting. They will may threats of police arrest, deportation, or license revocation. They may call back from other numbers or send emails pretending to be the local police or DMV to support their calls.
Scams ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. Emails seek practically any information, from filing status to verifying PIN details. Scam emails can look like official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry. When victims follow the email links sent to them, the official-looking websites ask for personal information.
• Call you and demand payment. The IRS will not call you about your tax bill without first sending you a bill in the mail.
• Ask for your credit card or debit card information over the phone.
• Require that you use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
• Threaten you to have the police arrest you for not paying.
• Initiate contact with you by phone, text, email, or social media channels to request your personal or financial information.
• Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
• Report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
• If phone scammers target you, also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report the scam. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
• Do not respond to the email or click on the links.
• Forward the scam emails to the IRS at
If you know or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to talk about payment options.
For more information and resources, you can visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.
When a company has to recall a product, it’s never pretty. Organizing refunds, exchanges, and other considerations for customers takes time. Meanwhile, the customers just want the product they bought to work as advertised!
That combination of confusion and frustration creates the perfect opportunity for scammers to make an opportunistic buck. There are a number of ploys that criminals will use to steal money or information while using the cover of a product recall.
If you’ve been following technology news, you know the Samsung Note 7 phones became so hot, they were melting on the inside. Samsung issued a product recall, stating you could just take your phone to your carrier’s store and exchange it for a new one.
Not everyone thinks that’s such a great deal, though. Either they’re not the original purchaser of the phone, or they bought it online and are having trouble getting the exchange. To recoup losses, they sell it online.
In the days after the product recall was announced, thousands of Note 7 phones went up on auction sites like eBay. They were selling for as little as half their market price. Getting 50% off a smartphone might sound like a good deal, especially when the seller promises the ability to trade it in for a phone of your choice. But buyer beware. There’s no assurance that second-hand buyers of the phone are eligible to participate in any refund program.
Before you buy a steeply discounted product, check to make sure there’s no recall on it. A quick online search should be all you need to see to it that the potential deal you’re getting isn’t going to blow up in your hands. If it feels too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Sometimes, companies decide the best way out of a jam is to just write checks. They’ll compensate everyone who bought their product for the damages they caused, and move on to the next product. That’s been the strategy that car maker Volkswagen has employed in the wake of its emissions scandal.
Any time there’s money changing hands, scammers will be there trying to take advantage. In this case, it’s people trying to buy the recalled vehicles for less than the buyback price and hoping to turn a profit in the interim. In other cases, scammers have just posed as representatives of a company issuing a recall and pumped product owners for bank information so they could supposedly deposit the refund directly.
When getting a refund for a recalled product, only deal with the company directly. There are never processing fees or any other costs associated with getting a refund from a company, nor would any company refuse to send a check rather than making a direct deposit. If a product you recently purchased is being recalled, be proactive. Find out what steps you need to take to get your money, and take them. Then, you can safely ignore anyone who calls you with special instructions.
With large-scale product recalls, getting information from a company can be a headache. After all, everyone else who bought the same product is calling at the same time, and likely for the same reason. Long hold times can be a serious drain on your nerves and patience.
That was the thinking of a group of scammers after a major Toyota-issued recall. The scammers sent out an official-looking email instructing Toyota owners to call a number exactly one digit off from the official Toyota help line. Calls to this line were put on hold with a recorded message saying that all operators were busy. The message went on to explain that there was a premium help line available to recall participants. There was a $5.95 per minute charge attached to it, but that information went by so fast, many callers didn’t even hear it. Worse yet, people who called that fake premium helpline were then asked for personally identifiable information, like Social Security numbers.
Here, too, the best way to avoid being hooked in a scam like this is to do your own research. Find the company’s phone number yourself and call. Sure, you might have to wait on hold a while, but the alternative is to put yourself in jeopardy from scams like this one.
How do you deal with the frustration of a product recall? What tips do you have to keep your cool and keep yourself safe from scams like these? Let us know!
Educated Credit Union Members Play Important Role in Cyber Security
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Jan. 7, 2015) – Credit unions have a new resource to educate their members about frauds, scams and cyber threats with the release today by the National Credit Union Administration of a two-part video on how to recognize, avoid and report cyber fraud.
"We all must contribute to protecting the broader credit union system," NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz said. "Ongoing member education on topics such as detecting, avoiding and preventing fraud not only protects a credit union's reputation, but it also helps members maintain their financial well-being. I encourage all credit unions to use these new videos when educating their members about protecting their finances and fighting cybercrime."
More information available on the NCUA's YouTube channel, the videos are part of NCUA's Consumer Report series developed by the Office of Consumer Protection.