'Tis the Season for Holiday Phone Scams
The holiday season is upon us. Here at CallerSmart, we love the holidays. It’s the time of year when we indulge in holiday shopping, get together with loved ones, exchange gifts, and celebrate a brand new year! However, during this happy time of the year, we know that there are spikes in phone scams, especially holiday scams. Scammers use the season of giving to prey on the unsuspecting.
Here's a rundown of five common holiday scams and what you can do to avoid becoming a part of them.
Gift Card Scams
We've all gotten the automated calls telling us that we've won a $100 gift card to Apple, Amazon, or some other retailer. These are too good to be true offers that are trying to get information out of you. When you receive a call or text like this, it’s best to ignore them.
Another scam involving gift cards is going around this holiday season and it’s quite different from the free gift card offer described above. This new scam is targeting the elderly. Fraudsters use the grandparent scam, which tries to convince grandparents that their grandchildren are in danger. The scammers instruct their targets to go to a local retailer and buy thousands of dollars worth of gift cards in order to pay the fines. Victims are threatened and told not to tell the police. The fraudsters instruct the grandparents to say that they are buying the gift cards to give as gifts. Scammers take the gift card information, make purchases, and escape with the money in a virtually untraceable manner.
The elderly are the most vulnerable in these types of scams. To prevent senior loved ones from becoming victims, tell them not to answer calls from numbers they don’t know. If they answer an unknown number and the caller claims to be their grandchild (or have their grandchild), instruct them to hang up and call the grandchild’s phone. If you or someone you know has experienced a call like this, you should report it to local authorities and your state’s Attorney General.
Charity phone scams are popular during the holiday season. Since people are in the giving spirit, scammers make the most out of the situation. If you receive a lot of telemarketing calls from charities, your best bet is to block them.
Telemarketers take a hefty chunk out of the funds they raise on behalf of charities, which could mean that only half the money you donate helps the cause you want to support. Don't fall for a fake charity scam even if the charity has a social media account or website. Scammers can easily create phony web addresses and accounts on social media platforms. Unsolicited emails can also trick even the savviest donor.
On top of the fact that telemarketers are taking a cut of the donation, some of the callers might not even be legitimate telemarketing companies, but scammers out to get your credit card information.
This time of year is full of fraudsters calling on behalf of fake charities. The fake charities tug on the heartstrings of kind folks who want to help the less fortunate. This year, it is especially prevalent due to the pandemic. Sadly, scammers only care about stealing money, your Social Security number, your bank account information, debit card, or credit card numbers. Fraudsters also use the information to commit identity theft.
If you decide to give this season, it’s best to avoid the telemarketers by letting them go to voicemail and then blocking them. There are many amazing charities out there that do incredible things with your donations. You can look for these charities on the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance site and the FTC's Charity Navigator. If you’ve been contacted by a scammer or telemarketer on behalf of a charity not adhering to National Do Not Call Registry, you should file a report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Although this is not directly related to the holiday season, this is a common scam throughout the winter months. Using caller ID spoofing, a scammer will call pretending to be from your electricity provider. The scammer will inform you that you owe money and that they are going to cut the power if you do not pay up immediately.
To avoid utility phone scams, ask the right questions. Ask the caller for their name, the amount you supposedly owe, and a number that you can use to call back. It’s a huge red flag if the number doesn’t match the one on your caller ID. If the caller asks you for information, like your address, credit card, bank account, or payment information, do not answer them. Instead, hang up and call your utility company directly from the number that is listed on their website. By calling them directly, you can verify whether or not you actually owe anything and you can also let them know that they have a scammer impersonating them. It’s also important to report scam calls like this to your state’s Attorney General.
The IRS phone scam is nothing new. It’s been going around for several years now, but in the last year it’s become even worse. Several years ago Congress passed a law that allows the IRS to start using private debt collectors to call on back taxes.
The IRS was against the passing of this law. In the past, to prevent the spread of the IRS phone scam, the IRS had been telling people that they don’t call to collect on taxes, and now private debt collectors do exactly that.
If you receive a phone call from someone saying they’re from the IRS and you owe money, ask for their information and hang up. Don’t give them any information regarding yourself. Once you get off the line contact the IRS directly in order to check if you actually do owe anything and report the scammer if you don’t owe anything.
Chances are that if you don’t think you owe anything, then you don’t owe anything and the caller is a scammer. You can reach the IRS by calling 800-366-4484 or online through the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)’s scam reporting form.
Many singles make it their resolution to be more sociable and go on more dates in the new year. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner in February, there is always a spike in the online dating sites’ registrations around the holidays. With more singles looking for love online, scammers will create phony profiles and impersonate real people in hopes of finding a victim. It is usually the most romantic and open people that fall victim to online dating scams as they are more likely to trust more quickly. Warning signs of a romance scammer are:
- Someone who professes their love very quickly.
- Someone who is overseas or very far away and can’t meet in person.
- Someone who takes the conversation off of the dating site quickly.
- Someone who asks for money.
You should run a Google image search on the photos of your online love interest. The results will show you whether the person you’re talking to uses photos from on other sites. If you decided to exchange numbers to communicate easily, run the person’s number through a reverse phone lookup app to check for suspicious behavior. If the person asks for an email address, use one specifically for that purpose. Scammers often send phishing emails to steal information. Also, make sure your security software is up to date to prevent viruses and malware from attaching to your computer.
If you feel that the person you are talking to isn't who they say they are, cut ties immediately and save yourself the heartbreak. You can report romance scammers to the FBI through the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and on RomanceScams.org, a non-profit that aims to stop romance scammers and spread awareness.
To help warn others of these scams during the holidays, you can download CallerSmart's app for unknown number lookups on your iPhone and leave feedback on scam numbers. If you don't have an iPhone you can still run reverse phone number lookup searches on our website and leave your feedback.