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Avoiding Telephone and Internet Scams

May 10, 2019 | Money Smart for Older Adults/ FDIC.gov

Older adults are increasingly the targets of scam artists on the telephone who use lies, deception, and fear tactics to convince them to send them money or provide personal account information. The Do-Not-Call registry may reduce calls from telemarketers representing legitimate businesses; however, it will not stop criminal telemarketers from calling.

Grandparent Scam

In this scenario, an imposter calls a grandparent pretending to be a grandchild in trouble. The scammer may even know the grandchild’s name. The scammer is usually crying making it hard to recognize the grandchild’s voice. They plead for the grandparent to wire money and not to tell any family members for fear of upsetting them. Many people will immediately jump to the assistance of the grandchild and won’t ask questions till later.

IRS Telephone Scam

In this scam, a scammer calls telling the consumer that he or she must immediately pay taxes that are owed. In some cases, the scammer targets immigrants who are told if they don’t pay the tax bill or otherwise follow instructions, they will face serious consequences, such as arrest and deportation, or the IRS could shut off their utilities, or revoke their driver’s licenses. Callers are frequently insulting or hostile to scare their potential victims. These scammers frequently:

  • Tell potential victims that they are entitled to big refunds, or that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS. When unsuccessful, they often call back trying new strategies.
  • May spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Use common names and surnames to identify themselves and fake IRS badge numbers
  • May know the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Send bogus IRS emails to victims to support their bogus calls
  • Create background noise to mimic a call site
  • Threaten jail time or driver’s license revocation
  • Hang up and call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV (with fake caller ID to trick you into believing that it is an official call) and threaten the consumer with arrest or revocation of their driver’s license.

You can report the suspected scam by going to Report Phishing and Online Scams.

Lottery and Sweepstakes Scam

Sweepstakes scammers call, email, or text consumers congratulations on winning a lottery, drawing, or sweepstakes, which the consumers usually have not even entered. The scammer ask the “winner” for an upfront payment to cover processing fees or taxes. In another variation, the scammer send a letter with an authentic looking, but phony, “Claim Certificate” or a “check” as an advance to pay the winnings. Bankers are generally aware of this scam and how to spot the phony checks. But if you deposit a phony check, the financial institution might hold you responsible for repayment of the entire amount of the fraudulent check even if you sent some of the money to the scammer.

Sweepstakes Recovery Scam

Once it is apparent that no winnings are forthcoming, the victim may receive another call from a person claiming to be an attorney representing sweepstakes winners. In exchange for an upfront fee, the so-called “attorney” offers to collect the winnings on behalf of the victim. Needless to say, the “attorney” is actually an associate of the original scammer and there is no chance of recovering the original loss or the fraudulent fee that the fake “attorney” charges.

Tips to Avoid Scams

Scammers can be very convincing. If something seems unusual check it out!

  • You cannot win a sweepstakes or a lottery that you did not enter.
  • Never “pay to play” A legitimate sweepstakes will not ask for money upfront.
  • Be suspicious of any pressure to send funds via wire transfer or a pre-paid reloadable card.
  • Pay attention to warnings from your financial institution telling you that a request sounds like a scam. Your banker may have encountered similar situations in the past.
  • If a caller claims to be from an established organization such as a hospital, a charity, or a law enforcement agency, look up the number of the organization independently before taking action.
  • Consider it a red flag if the caller insists on secrecy. Never allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, verification, support and counsel from family members, friends or support and counsel from family members, friends, or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.