More Phone Scams For the General Public

It seems that right now phone scam season is going strong!  Last week I posted about some common scams targeting businesses. Those same scams are also targeting the general public, so please be on the lookout for them. In addition to those, here are some others that seem to be targeting primarily individuals and the general public.

Request for Help

The mother of one of schoolmates described how she had gotten a call from someone claiming to be her granddaughter who was on a spring break vacation with her college buddies and had been put into a Mexican jail after not having enough to pay for her meal at a restaurant. My friend’s mother may be an octogenarian, but she is very sharp and also very aware of the locations of her five grandchildren. She knew right away this was a scam, but as a long-time reader of my monthly Privacy Professor Tips she realized right away that it would be interesting to ask the young-sounding female some additional questions.

Friend’s mom (Mom): “Oh no! Is this Sarah? How terrible! How can I help you?”

Caller: “Yes! Oh, please Grammy, can you wire $900 to the jail?”

Mom: “Grammy? Since when did you start calling me Grammy?”

[quite a bit of talking here that escalated]

Caller (yelling): “Just send me the money! They said I would die here if you don’t! Do you want to kill me!?”

Mom: “First of all, I don’t have a granddaughter named Sarah. Second, no one calls me Grammy. And third, I have your number and I’m turning you in to the FBI.”

Caller: “#*@$*!! %(*@#(%*&!!! [all a bunch of profanity]  LADY!”


Mom reported the call, and soon after learned the call came from a cellphone purchased with prepaid minutes.

This scam is not new. It increases around spring break, during the summer, and over winter breaks. See more about it here.

Targeting the Homeless

Crooks see everyone as a possible victim; even those who are going through the hardest times of their lives: the homeless. This isn’t usually done through phone calls (although I’ve heard of some that have), but have cell phones at the core of the scam. 

These con artists are paying homeless people to sign up for cell phone contracts to get subsidized phones for $50 – $100 for a phone that would otherwise cost $600 or more. Once the scammers get the brand new phones in their hands, they drop off the homeless victims and sell the phones on the streets, online or to others outside of the country.

While the homeless victims are usually paid $50 – $100, because the phones are in their names, they are the ones who are stuck with the bills, often in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Of course, when they don’t pay, any credit they may have is completely destroyed.

Here is some more information about this despicable scam.

Red Flags for Scam Calls

Here are some of the common signs that a person calling and requesting information from you is likely to be a social engineering crook:

  • The call was unsolicited and/or unexpected.
  • You’ve never heard of the company or organization the caller claims to be representing.
  • The caller has audible irritation when you question their authority, ask to speak with their manager, ask for their phone number, ask to call back later, etc.
  • They use double-talk to try and confuse you.
  • The caller makes excessive claims of authority and threatens you with an IRS audit, a law suit, job termination, or some other bad action if you do not do what they ask
  • Excessive flattery and/or flirting
  • Name dropping to impress or intimidate you
  • Stressing urgency to do the actions being requested
  • Threatening legal actions or other negative consequences if there is no cooperation
  • Showing discomfort or anger when questioned about the requests

There are a wide variety of methods used in phone scams. Some involved robo-callers, some involve leaving voice mails, and some involve real people calling you. Knowing the red flags will help you from becoming a victim.

Keep the following in mind when you encounter these red flags:

  • The IRS, and other government agencies, will never call you out of the blue; they will send hard copy letters for any communications they have for you. Typically they will only call you to return one of your calls.
  • Ask the caller for details about his name, phone number, name of organization, etc. Document what they tell you, including the date and time you are speaking with them. This could be  potentially used as evidence if the crooks are ever caught and prosecuted.
  • NEVER give out personal information or wire money as a result of an unexpected or unsolicited call if you cannot validate the authenticity.
  • If the caller is a bill collector, call the company they are calling on behalf of first to determine if the bill collector really was calling on their behalf. If the collector was threatening or abusive, tell the company of the inappropriate behavior.

Bottom line…

If you get an unsolicited call from someone claiming you owe money and/or threatening you, demanding you provide your personal information, credit card number, or some other type of payment, so NOT do as they say! No matter how much they threaten you. And report the calls to the organizations that are devoted to catching these crooks. 

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