Top Consumer Phone Scams to Watch Out for in 2017

Feb 21, 2017

A picture of a padlock among credit cards, laptops, and phonesHave you ever found yourself unnerved by a fraudulent phone call from an official-sounding person claiming to be from the IRS who demands that you settle an outstanding tax debt right away or be subject to swift legal action? Scare-based phone scams like these were common last year, and they will continue in 2017 as criminals update their approach with slightly different tactics.  

As many of you know, crooks are acutely aware of how fear overrides the logic centers of people’s brains - causing even intelligent, informed consumers to make decisions based on impulse rather than critical thought. To avoid being blindsided by these fraudsters, be aware of these top consumer scams on the rise this year:

The tech support call: A form of a phishing scam in which a criminal attempts to get personal and financial information from you by posing as a legitimate enterprise, this scam plays on people’s valid concerns about viruses and malware attacks. In this case, you receive a phone call from someone who announces himself as a tech support provider or a representative of a well-known company such as Microsoft. He may then inform you that his company has detected a problem (such as a virus) on your computer. In reality, this is a crook who may be attempting to obtain your credit card information, download a virus or malware on your computer or gain remote access to your computer. If you receive a call like this, hang up. And if you’re concerned that your computer may have been compromised, call your security software company or tech support provider directly.

The skipped jury duty scam: The jury duty ploy has been used for years but it is growing in popularity among con artists along with the high demand for personal information that can be sold on the internet’s black market. It often starts with a caller identifying himself as an officer of the court. He may then proceed to tell you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest because you failed to report to jury duty. If you then explain that you did not receive a jury summons, he insists that you provide personal information for verification purposes.  Refrain from engaging with these callers. If you’re worried you may have actually missed jury duty, look up the courthouse’s number directly, as criminals may use caller ID “spoofing” to make their call appear legitimate. Keep in mind that federal courts will not require anyone to provide sensitive information in a phone call, and that they generally correspond with prospective jurors by mail. To report the incident, notify the Clerk of Court’s office of the U.S. District Court in your area. To quickly access a court locator, visit http://www.uscourts.gov/court-locator.

A new spin on the IRS phone threat: Encouraged by the fact that criminals have made off with millions of dollars every year with this scheme, thieves are adjusting their approach in impersonating IRS officials by targeting those with college loans - citing a nonexistent “federal student tax” that must be paid immediately. Like IRS impostors in the past, the caller will often claim that a warrant will be issued for the person’s arrest if payment is not made by pre-paid debit card or a wire transfer. What’s worse, these callers often use personal details they have collected about their target to intimidate them into staying on the phone. If you receive one of these calls, be aware that the IRS will not call you with a demand for immediate payment and that they will never call you about taxes owed before having corresponded with you by mail first. In addition, they won’t demand that you use a specific form of payment to settle a bill or ask for financial information over the phone.  To report an incident like this, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at http://bit.ly/IRSImpersonationScamReport, or call their hotline at 800-366-4484.

Although the aforementioned exploits rank high on the radar of the FBI and consumer protection agencies, these are by no means an exhaustive list of consumer phone scams that will proliferate in 2017. Solicitations from phony charities, robocalls from fake sweepstakes, and even calls for help from grandchildren supposedly being held in Mexican jails are just a few examples of trends that will continue in 2017. For more information on safeguarding your personal information from financial crimes and identity theft, visit the SFPCU website at http://bit.ly/SFPCUIdentityTheftProtection.


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