By Kay Coyte
Consumer Tip No. 2: When Scammers Come Calling, Don’t Answer
Note: In honor of Elizabeth “E.M.” Danniher’s beat as the “Helping Out” reporter from KWMT-TV in the Caught Dead in Wyoming series, I will be offering consumer tips drawn from the books. Here’s the second one in the series.
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In SIGN OFF, TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher assists the good people of Sherman, Wyoming, with consumer complaints in her “Helping Out” segments. The situations have run from mundane – getting a refund for a viewer with a defective toaster – to murderous – helping solve a capital crime. In one scam, the con artists went door to door, in another they contacted their victims via the phone.
A widely distributed Associated Press story earlier this month reported that Kentucky’s Attorney General Andy Beshear warned of over-the-phone scams featuring people claiming to be county sheriff’s deputies. Callers say they can help residents resolve a federal warrant that has been issued against them — for a not-so-small fee. The fraudsters “spoof” a local number but are really operating out of state or even abroad.
You can hear the voice mail recording of the Kentucky scam here, and read the cautionary tale of one lawyer who almost fell victim to this elaborate scheme.
I, too, almost fell prey to such a scam, the old Microsoft tech help trick. I was alerted to a computer virus and told to call a toll-free number. I’m the skeptical type, but still allowed the fake IT guy to access my computer. It didn’t seem right, though, so as I spoke to him on my landline, I searched “Microsoft tech scam” on my smartphone, and instantly confirmed my worst fears. I hung up immediately, unplugged the computer and later had the device analyzed by a computer network expert I have long trusted.
But I wasn’t the only victim of that call. So was the medical supply firm Welch Allyn. The scammers use the company’s numbers to route their calls. It looked legit to me, and is a continuing headache for the upstate New York firm, according to a company representative I spoke to that day. Caller ID spoofers also have impersonated medical insurers (to get personal data) and utility companies (to threaten disconnection as a means to extort money).
The lesson here is to use caution when trusting your phone, and particularly your caller ID. And if you want to see what the latest trick is up fraud artists’ sleeves, the Better Business Bureau keeps track of them with its ongoing Scam Alerts. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network also scans for scams at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network.