8 Telemarketing and Texting Scams to Watch Out For
Telemarketing is big business for scammers. Nearly 60 million people – 1 out of every 6 Americans – lost money to phone scams in 2021 with losses averaging $502 per person. With numbers like that, you can’t afford to assume this won’t happen to you or someone you care about. And it’s not just phone calls that you have to watch out for these days, scam texts sent by cybercrooks are also becoming more and more common.
Because scammers are always seeking new ways to exploit their targets, it’s a good idea to stay informed about the most common types of scams. And if you have a senior in your life, make sure they’re aware of these ploys – older adults are twice as likely to make purchases over the phone, so they are frequent targets of fraudsters. Here’s what to look out for:
Lottery or sweepstakes scams
You get a call from an unknown number: “Congratulations,” they exclaim “you’re our big winner!” They go on to share more information about what you’ve won – maybe a new car, an all-expenses-paid cruise, an iPad. The thing is, they need you to send them money to claim your prize. Unfortunately, there is no prize, and if you send them money (or worse your account information) you end up on the losing end of this “deal.”
Telemarketing schemes frequently take advantage of people’s generosity and interest in helping others; and once you’re on their list of “donors,” they’ll keep calling for repeat donations or from other “organizations.” Many scammers will thank you for a donation you’ve made to try and trick targets into thinking they already have a relationship with the organization. It’s also good to be on the lookout for fake charities that emerge quickly following a natural disaster to “help” victims with “urgent” needs. This doesn’t mean you should avoid donations, just make sure the organization is legitimate first – a directory like Charity Navigator can help you assess nonprofits.
“Phishing” is a term that describes when fraudsters contact a target by phone (or increasingly, via email) appearing to be a legitimate company to extract card, account, banking, and personal details. Scammers may try a number of tactics to get you to reveal this information including telling you there is a problem with your account (like an overdue payment), asking you to reset your password because your account has been hacked, or requesting you provide the security code on your card to confirm it’s in your possession. Financial institutions won’t call, text, or email you for this information, and if you’re unsure, you can hang up and call the number on the back of your card. Note that fraudsters will also imitate non-financial companies you have an account with, so beware of similar requests for information from internet service providers, streaming services like Netflix, and other services you pay for monthly.
Some scammers pose as IRS employees and make aggressive calls to taxpayers claiming they owe money and face serious consequences if they don’t pay immediately. These imposters can be very convincing, using fake names and phony identification badge numbers to seem legitimate, but they use tactics that the IRS does not use or condone. The IRS will not demand immediate payment, ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone, or threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement agencies to arrest people for not paying. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into believing their schemes. In fact, phone calls from the IRS are unusual, they typically initiate contact by mail via the United States Postal Service. You can learn more about avoiding these scams here.
The grandparent scam
In this swindle, the scammer is counting on memory problems and loving generosity. He calls up his target, and says something along the lines of, “Hi Grandma (or Grandpa), do you know who this is?” The person picks the name of a grandchild who sounds like the caller on the phone. “Yes! That’s me,” says the scammer, who then asks for money for some sort of financial problem – rent, car repairs, a crisis. The fake, loving grandchild scammer then asks that the money be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require signatures to collect.
Hurt friend/relative scams
Yet another example of exploiting generosity, the scammer calls or sends an email saying that someone’s relative or child is hurt or injured or stranded somewhere, generally in a foreign country. They might be in a hospital; they need money immediately; you must help now! The victim gets conned into sending money to “help” their friend or family member in need.
Auto Warranty scams
Increasingly more common in recent years are scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer, manufacturer or insurer telling you that your auto warranty or insurance is about to expire, and you need to renew your policy. During the call, which often starts with a pre-recorded message, you may be asked to provide personal information that could be used to defraud you. Be aware that the scammer may have specific information about your particular car and warranty that they use to deceive you into thinking they are a legitimate caller.
Unfortunately, fraudsters have been known to take advantage of medical or health-related events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, to gain information and money from their targets. In recent years, these scams have taken a number of different forms including sending a text link to complete a fake vaccine survey for a reward, collecting personal information for bogus tests and cures, and requiring money to book a non-existent vaccine appointment. Keep in mind that scam calls and texts may be “spoofed” to appear in your caller ID as if they’re coming from a local number or an official government agency. Be wary of any unsolicited offers that require you to provide your insurance or doctor’s information, and verify any medical related information via a government source like vaccine.gov.
Being aware of common scams is the first step towards keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. For more tips, check out our post on Telemarketing Scams: Warning Signs You’re Being Targeted and How to Protect Yourself.