Congress takes on robocall scams

The Senate has passed a bill to reduce the reach of robocall scammers over time. Learn how to protect yourself and your money before it takes effect.

23 Dec 2019

Key takeaways

  • Do not engage if you get a suspicious call, and make sure your family knows to do the same.
  • Never give out personal or login information over the phone.
  • Never agree to send a money transfer or prepaid card to someone you don't know.

Robocalls are a long-time tool of politicians and some legitimate businesses, but the technology is also used to separate consumers from their hard-earned money billions of times each year. On Thursday, 20 December, the Senate passed a bill that aims to cut down on robocall scams over time. Known as the TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act, the bill grants the government the ability to locate and prosecute offenders, requires telecommunications companies to offer free robocall-blocking services to customers and increases potential fines for criminals to $10,000. While the changes may not take effect for months, there are ways you can protect yourself from these dangerous scams now. Below, learn what to look out for in order to stay safe.

Robocall scams: a growing problem

If your phone rings and you don’t personally know who is on the other side, you should always respond with caution. While many businesses, including your bank, may call you for a variety of reasons, not every call may be what it seems.

Criminal organizations around the world frequently dial targeted US phone numbers hoping to reach their next financial scam victim. “Everyone should be concerned with robocall fraud today,” says Ellen Segriff, Head of Privacy and Cyber Information Security at UBS. “Robocall scams are on the rise.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the federal Do Not Call Registry, said there were 3.79 million complaints about robocalls in 2018, more than double the 1.73 million complaints logged in 2014.1

“If someone is asking for personal information, hang up,” she explains. When your bank calls, they already have your account and personal contact information. There is no reason for a company you already work with to ask for account numbers, login IDs or passwords.

If there is any issue with your account at any business, you can always call the business directly on a published customer service number to guarantee you are speaking with someone you can trust. Segriff points out that you likely have finance-related phone numbers handy: “If you are in doubt, go back to your financial statements and use those phone numbers.”

Common robocall scams to watch out for today

Criminal calls come in a variety of forms. They may pose as a trusted bank or credit card company, a grandchild or other relative, or government official. For example, one popular scam came from a caller claiming to be from the IRS. The “agent” would explain that you are past due on taxes, and threaten a horrible fine or penalty if you don’t make a payment right away.

The IRS doesn’t act like that, even when people do owe sizable back taxes. According to Consumer Affairs, other top robocall scams in 2019included health insurance scams, where the caller would say they are trying to help you get health insurance.2 In reality, they just want to get the information you use to pay for your health insurance.

Another popular scam targeted business owners. The caller would claim or threaten that the business would be removed from search results unless they pay for search engine optimization (SE0) services. Of course, the caller doesn’t actually provide any SEO services, they just charge for them.1

Tools and tips to stay safe

Some technology companies have introduced smart caller IDs that aim to identify spam callers, but there is no impenetrable method to deflect all robocall scammers. Still, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.

“Add yourself to the ‘do not call’ registry for telemarketers,” Segriff suggests. “If you are on that list and still get a call, you know it’s not legitimate.” You should also be on the lookout for spoofing. “Caller ID spoofing is when someone changes their call ID to disguise where they are really calling from.”

Because you can’t fully trust your caller ID, the last line of defense is your own awareness of robocall scams. Do not engage if you get a suspicious call, and make sure your family knows to do the same. “If you think a call is coming from a scammer, hang up. That’s the best thing you can do.”

Stand up strong to robo scammers

Robocall scams can be surprisingly convincing, so you should always stay alert to avoid losing money. To the online criminals, it’s a numbers game. Using robocall and automatic dialing technology, they can dial countless numbers hoping to connect you to a scammer on the other end of the phone.

Never give out personal or login information over the phone. Never agree to send a money transfer or prepaid card to someone you don’t know. Always remember, legitimate companies do not ask for these types of payments.

According to Segriff, “If you don’t recognize the caller ID, and if it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t right.” Save yourself the time, money and frustration of fraudulent losses by standing up strong to phone-based scams.

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