Unfortunately, I have heard from a few constituents over the past year that have fallen victim to predatory phone scams. It can be difficult to tell whether or not a phone call is legitimate, especially when the person on the other end of the line is aggressive or threatening. Knowing what kinds of scams are out there can help you protect yourself, and when in doubt, remember that you can always hang up and call back an official number for the business or institution the caller claims to represent.
Cambridge Police Detective Brian O’Connor breaks down some of the most common phone scams in this column originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle:
The phone rings and a phone number you do not recognize shows up on the caller ID. You pick up the phone and say hello. The voice on the other end of the line says that a family member has been in an accident and they will cause harm to them unless you send money, which will guarantee their safety. What do you do? This is only one of the many current phone scams that are plaguing U.S. residents every day.
Phone scams are a multi-million-dollar business for scammers, who mostly reside outside of the United States. With new scams popping up every day, trying to keep up with the current ones and the technology is difficult. Caller IDs may or may not show a real number, as scammers are taking to technology and using Caller ID spoofing to make their phone number appear as a legitimate number, like 911 or a police department.
The following is an overview of some of the current phone scams, which have been recently reported to the Cambridge Police and neighboring police departments.
Tax money owed to the IRS
One of the largest scams at this time is an IRS tax-fee scam. This scam involves an individual receiving a phone call from a person claiming to be a federal agent with the IRS. The individual will usually know the person’s name and will claim that they owe money in back taxes. The scammer will inform the person that if they do not pay their tax fees either by wiring money or using a pre-paid money card, they will be arrested. The caller ID will generally show as a Washington, DC (202) area code, and may even show up as the IRS. The IRS has issued alerts that they do not contact individuals via telephone for owed taxes.
Family member in an accident
Another scam involves an individual who calls a person and states that a relative of theirs has been involved in an accident. The individual knows the identity of the person who “was in the accident” and uses threats and anger to try to convince the person being called that they will harm the relative. The caller will generally make the person stay on the phone while they go to a local store and purchase pre-paid money cards or wire money to the scammer.
Microsoft computer issue
You may receive a phone call from an individual who states that they are from Microsoft and that there is an issue with your computer. The scammer will try to convince the person to go onto their computer and visit a particular website. By visiting this website, the user runs the risk of downloading malware or viruses to their computer, which would allow a criminal to have access to the information on the computer or use your computer’s IP address to hide their identity.
Utility company fees
You could receive a phone call from a utility company stating that you owe money and, if you don’t immediately pay it off, your utility service will be shut off. This scam has been seen mainly with business customers. The scammer will request the business purchase pre-paid cards and provide the number to the scammer to keep their utilities on.
Immigration warrant or arrest warrant
You may receive a phone call from an individual claiming to be an agent of the federal government or a police department and they inform you of an immigration violation or an arrest warrant. The individual may then request you purchase pre-paid money cards or wire funds to clear up your warrant or violation.
The mysterious text message from a bank
You could receive a text message from an unknown number stating that verification is needed on your account (bank or credit card). The scammers are hoping that people will contact the phone number provided in the text and provide information, which will result in unauthorized debits to your bank account or credit card. If you receive a text message from a financial institution, contact your bank at its customer service number and speak to a customer service representative.
These are just a few examples of the many phone scams that are being seen across the United States. Once you provide a scammer with a pre-paid money card number, the chance of you recovering the money is very slim. If you have doubts about a phone call you received, contact the company or organization that “allegedly” called. If you receive any calls mentioned in this article, or anything suspicious, please hang up and contact the Cambridge Police at 617-349-3300.
If you have any questions about scams, you can contact Detective Brian O’Connor, CFCI Criminal Investigations Section, Financial and Computer Crimes Cambridge Police Department, 125 Sixth St., Cambridge, MA 02142; 617-349-9307; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian O’Connor is a Cambridge Police Department detective as part of Financial and Computer Crimes.