Who Falls For Phone Scams?

Category: Finance , Telephony

Americans lost an estimated $7.4 billion to phone scams in 2015, according to an online Harris Poll survey. It’s projected that 27 million of us got taken by phone scammers last year, Based on the self-selected survey sample; that number is up 53% from 2014. You'll be surprised to learn who is most likely to fall for a phone scam. Read on!

The Most Gullible?

Are people getting dumber, or are scammers getting smarter? Male millennials (age 18-34) had the highest rate of gullibility, with 38% reporting they’d lost money to phone scams in the past twelve months. Only 17% of female millennials were tricked out of money, perhaps because they’re on guard against phone calls from male millennials.

Overall, 11% of more than 2,000 survey respondents admitted to being victims of phone scams in the past year. You might think that seniors would be the most likely to get scammed. But actually it appears that the younger generations, who grew up with tech and don’t view it skeptically, are more likely to fall for a phone scam than their elders.

Most phone scams do target older Americans; that’s well documented by other, long-running research. Questions of mental competency aside, older people tend to have more money to steal; they’re more compassionate and trusting; and they use government services that are readily adapted to scammers’ nefarious purposes.

Phone Scams

Medicare is a favorite subterfuge of phone scammers. Selling supplemental Medicare Part D insurance is pretty easy, especially if the price is exceptionally low because the product doesn’t exist. Mobility scooters, walk-in bathtubs, and other hardware are also scammer favorites, with the lure that “Medicare will pay for every dime.” Usually, either the price is inflated or the product is of low quality. The victims, in such cases, are Medicare and all taxpayers.

Term life insurance, often sold as “prepaid funeral services,” is another good scam. We really don’t know if life insurance exists until someone tries to collect it; by then, the scammer has all the money he’s going to get and may be long gone.

It's URGENT!

Tech support and virus hoaxes are also popular among phone scammers. The immediacy of a phone call works in the scammer’s favor. When “Microsoft tech support” is on the line, urgently telling what you must do to stop the malware that’s infected your computer, you just don’t take time to think, "How would Microsoft know my PC’s infected?" If you get a phone call like this, hang up and run a malware scan with your anti-virus tool. (See my article Free Antivirus Programs for my recommendations.)

“Your account has been frozen.” Again, the immediacy of a phone call leads people to provide “verification” details, including their account login credentials and PIN, without stopping to verify that the account actually is frozen. No financial institution asks for security details by phone, ever.

“Trust us, we’re from The Government” actually still works on some people. But no, the FBI doesn’t settle cases by taking credit card numbers over the phone, and the IRS does not call for your bank account details to deliver rebates or refunds.

Winners and Losers

“You’ve won _________ !” No, you haven’t. Even if you did, you don’t have to provide bank account details or pay anything to collect prize money. Tell the caller to just mail a check.

Surprisingly, “You can pay your income taxes in cash at any 7-11” is NOT a scam or hoax. The IRS really is partnering with 7,000 7-11 stores to collect cash payments from people who lack bank accounts. I think that’s a very bad idea because scammers will pervert this program to their purposes. Don’t listen to anyone who says he’s from the IRS and will meet you at 7-11 to collect your taxes.

I should note that the Harris Poll survey cited above was commissioned by TrueCaller.com. The company’s app for iOS, Android, and Windows devices attempts to match your incoming caller to one of the 2 billion phone numbers in TrueCaller’s database and provide some clues to the caller’s identity. The free app also blocks unknown callers, those who disable caller-ID, and specific numbers. I use it on my phone, and it's been helpful.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Who Falls For Phone Scams?"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Kevin
12 Apr 2016

After reading up on this last week, I subscribed to NOMOROBO for my landline. The very annoying calls that I was getting every day telling me that I can reduce my credit card debt have stopped--even the ones that were masking the number to try to appear like my neighbors were calling. Phone will ring once and then stop immediately.

I also follow the rule that if I don't recognize the number, I don't answer the call. If it is really someone trying to reach me, they can leave a message on my machine. The only time recently that I answered the phone (and without really thinking about it) was when the credit card debt scammer called and masked their call with my home number--I should have known that I was not calling my phone from my own number.


Posted by:

Sara
12 Apr 2016

I'm like Kevin. If I don't recognize the number, I don't answer. Once in awhile I slip up. Two favorite scams around here are (1) a person representing himself as a tech support person for Microsoft Windows asks you for computer info so they can take it over. I told this person that is was a scam and hung up. (2) Person claiming to represent IRS and told me I was being sued. Person said Internal Revenue SERVICES( a dumb giveaway) & I also told him it was a scam and hung up. IRS will NEVER pusue anybody by phone or e-mail' it's always by snail mail.


Posted by:

Doug
12 Apr 2016

I, too, don't answer a call from someone not in my contacts list. They can leave me a message on Google Voicemail.


Posted by:

John C
12 Apr 2016

I've gotten those Microsoft Tech calls and as a retired technician, they get an earful from me and they hang up quickly.

With the other kinds of calls, my grand piano works well... The portable or mobile phone goes in the piano and a big arm banging chord usually means I never get a call back from that number again. :-)


Posted by:

Warren
12 Apr 2016

If you won a whole bunch of money (for something you never entered) and you need to wire the money for tax withholding to them, it ain't happenin! If you really won something, they will deduct the tax from your winnings and send you a 1099 tax form.


Posted by:

Julie
12 Apr 2016

I had the U. S. Treasury Dept. call me. Mr. John White had a distinct Indian accent. When I questioned him about his very strong accent, he called me a racist. He told me that unless I complied, I was going to be investigated. I asked him for his ID number and he told me that he would give it to me when I gave him my social security number. I replied that he should have it he was calling me. He told me to shut up. I said that I didn't think my government employees should be telling a U.S. citizen to shut up. He then told me he was investigating me for tax fraud. I replied then that he should be with the IRS, not the Treasury Dept. Again he told me to shut up. He said if I didn't comply, he would send agents to my house in two hours to collect the money. I was trying so hard not to laugh that I couldn't speak. He took advantage of the silence to tell me that I better pay up. I replied with:"I'm about to fix supper. Do you think your agents will be hungry? I'll wait." He said a few colorful words, told me to shut up once again, and hung up. I'm still waiting for those agents to show up.


Posted by:

RandiO
13 Apr 2016

We may detest them but could you imagine being a telemarketer? Knowing full well that he is just trying to earn a living?
There has been many vigilante tactics against them: see this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JODjtsQOC3Y.
But at the end of the day, I think that it is best to follow the great recommendations above and just leave them be, even if you subscribe to nomorobo!


Posted by:

TL
13 Apr 2016

I got a call from a youthful voice:
"Grandpa?
Huh?
Who's your favorite grandson?
Larry! Is that you?"

I had about 5 minutes of fun with this kid (I don't have a grandson named Larry), until he caught on, then the line went >


Posted by:

Doc
13 Apr 2016

Call from 'Microsoft' - 'Your computer is sending out what looks like a lot of spam, that's illegal and you could go to jail."

Me: What port do you show me using, and I'll check it and block it"

Them: ????????

Me: Just tell me the port that the spam is coming from and I'll check it and see. If after I block it and you still show that I'm sending spam, PLEASE call me back because I can work on it from this end to nail the problem pronto!"

Them: bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

=================================

Never fails - pretend knowledge you don't have, and let them prove your wrong - AFTER you 'fix the problem'. Those phone calls are spooky - as in "Do you have a (name brand of computer)in your house? I've tried: no I use a Mac. But that only works for so long and they call back. Ask for a port out, and they don't know what you mean. Hell, I almost don't know what I mean, but it sure means something because they hardly ever call back, and Bob solved that many months ago in his letter on how to block robo calls.

Ever since Bob - thank you Bob =--- posted about robotcaller (I guess the name is) such phone calls have stopped, over about 4-5 months robos have gone from 8-10 a day down to Heck, -- I hate to say it but ONE -- early last week!!!! --

Thanks Bob!


Posted by:

Ed
13 Apr 2016

I started using nomorobo and it work pretty good.


Posted by:

cal67
13 Apr 2016

I agree with Rob's comment, and would postulate that male millennials are most susceptible because they are more conditioned to getting something for nothing or for no personal effort.


Posted by:

Nezzar
13 Apr 2016

I have had several calls from "Microsoft," stating that my computer has a virus, and I need to go to a certain web site to correct the problem. I almost fell for it the first time, (I'm 67)but I Googled in the web site first. SCAM was the first thing I noticed on the Google sites that came up. I hung up, but I still occasionally get the same type of calls. I talked with a computer savvy guy that I know about this situation, and he asked, "Do you really think that Microsoft cares if you have a virus on your computer? That put things into the proper perspective.


Posted by:

David Baker
13 Apr 2016

If it's a number I don't know, I don't answer it. They can leave a message if it's important and I'll call back ASAP. If it sounds too good, it's a fake...


Posted by:

BaliRob
13 Apr 2016

Here in Indonesia the scammers are repeating the practice of a few years ago - that is stealing credits from subscribers accounts - now there is no protection from that. Phone credit are topped up here in cash but that is not where the theft takes place. One is only aware when the phone call you are making suddenly cuts out even though you know beforehand that you have sufficient credit.


Posted by:

Jeanne
13 Apr 2016

I'm 73 and I screen almost all my calls. I have, on occasion, answered a couple from the "Microsoft Technicians" telling me about the malware on my computer. I just tell them I don't see how this is possible, as I have a MAC, not a PC.


Posted by:

Elaina
13 Apr 2016

I don't think becoming a senior makes one gullible (unless there is a medical issue). I'm 73 and have a theory about the seniors who are easily scammed. I suspect they were gullible when they were 25 and continued to be gullible throughout their lives, only now they blame it on being a senior. I don't appreciate the bad reputation that gives to the rest of us.


Posted by:

Nancy
13 Apr 2016

Beware of scammers who claim to be from Dell and who are able to give you the correct model and even service tag for your computer. I'm not sure how it is/was possible for them to get this information, but they had it (not that it did them any good). My computers are very well protected, have no viruses, and we're a senior couple with nobody having inside access to determine this info, so I suspect it came from Dell in some manner (hacking or inside job). Dell will not call you any more than Microsoft will, but if ever in doubt, make your own call back after researching the support number on the applicable website (Don't use any number the caller gives you). Even better, use the company's online chat feature to report suspicious activity.


Posted by:

Adrian
13 Apr 2016

I have had many of those "Microsoft Helpdesk" calls. Sometimes I just abuse them and they put the phone down immediately. The one day I told the guy he was a criminal (not in such polite words) and he almost had a thrombosis, threatening to get the police to come around. The more I laughed, the more agitated he got. I enjoyed that one ! It is quite remarkable how many English swear words these people have learnt when English is not their primary language.

I was doing a little research into those particular scammers. After spending a little while showing you irrelevant error messages in your Windows logfiles, they will invariably take you to a totally legitimate site that provides remote desktop software. They will want you to install the client software and then they will give you some kind of key or ID number to type in so that they may remotely take control of your computer. It seems they pay quite a lot of money to those legitimate remote control software companies for the "licence" to use the software, so if you can perhaps pretend to install the remote control client software and then ask for the licence key or access code or whatever it may be, you can then report that code to the provider of the remote control software and let them know that a scammer is trying to use that licence. It will at least hurt those scum in their pocket. If you do install the client software, this in itself is not going to cause any harm to your PC provided it is indeed from a bona-fide site, just make sure you never give them any codes or ID numbers from your PC. If you give them a number or code from your side, change several digits or characters so that it will never work.

The more of their time you can waste, the less time they have to catch some poor sucker, so if you have the time, have some fun with them.


Posted by:

Not Gullible
15 Apr 2016

So far, we have received 4 IRS phone calls. One woke us up at 6:30am. I have reported all the calls, which they leave the messages on the answering machine.


Posted by:

Jim Swan
17 Apr 2016

Two comments:

1: There is as hilarious TED talk on this topic by James Vietch ( I hope I've spelled his name correctly)

2: Here in Japan the convenience stores, such as 7-11, are ubiquitous and have over the past decade or so really turned themselves into the go-to places for many, many services, including printouts of confidential city government documents. They really live up to their "convenience" name. Think 19th century General Store updated for the 21st century


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