Broker Check

Spam calls

September 13, 2019
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Spam calling has gotten out of hand. In fact, it's a normal occurrence for me to receive an average of five unsolicited calls per day, from unblocked numbers, that I am unfamiliar with. Do you remember, just a decade back when spam callers would simply identify themselves as "blocked number?" This is no longer the norm. In fact, the callers have tapped into high tech programs that display a rotating call-from number that, many times, is even from you local area code and prefix making it seem legitimate. 

Most of the callers are either hoping to sell you something or create a panic in you. If you have not received any of these calls you may be wondering what I mean by panic... well, most of the people committing fraud want to catch you off-guard. They want to try and get you to "TAKE ACTION" quickly without thinking about how practical it is to do so. For example, receiving a call from the (supposed) Social Security Administration alerting you that your number has been compromised. They then ASK YOU for your number. This is the action they are wanting you to take. Do not ever give it to them.

It doesn't matter what they are asking for, don't give it to them. They can threaten arrest, fines, and any combination of the two. Keep in mind, if it is legitimate, the typical procedures often involves officers at your front door with an arrest warrantor or, you guessed it, snail mail. And why wouldn't the government use USPS? But back to phone calls... 

One of the other SCAMS involves the IRS. Now this one gets me every time I hear about it. because they tend to ask for an untraceable payment, such as gift cards. Caller, "You are going to be arrested for back taxes if you don't pay X dollars right now and it needs to be in the form of a VISA gift card." What?? On what planet do you think the US Government is going to want taxes paid via gift card? This is not to say you should give them any form of payment over the phone.  This is simply to emphasize how they create panic in their victims, threatening and trying to establish dominance so they will get their way. Don't buy it. Hang up.

So, what else can you do?

Well, the first suggestion is to follow the SEC's guidelines and register your phone number at donotcall.gov  But what happens when you continue to get calls, like I do, and I have been registered since 2003?  

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Download an app specific to your carrier that manages, recognizes and (attempts to) filter out spam calls. I use AT&T Call Protect (but there are similar programs I found in the app store with t-mobile and sprint, as well). AT&T call protect keeps a running log of calls, and if recognized as potentially threatening, will label the incoming call "SPAM RISK," "TELEMARKETER," "SURVEY or "SUSPECTED SPAM." It will even auto block calls that it determines to be "POTENTIAL FRAUD" and tracks these in the app. This is a handy way for me to take a quick glance and know that I am not missing something important. Just keep in mind, it is not without error and the programs robocalling are sophisticated and can fool these apps/programs too.

2) Next you can revisit the donotcall.gov  and click "report unwanted calls." If you have a lot of time on your hands, this could be a fun and entertaining activity. However, with the volume of calls I have been receiving, and all the details they need about date/time/number, reporting could turn into an unwanted hobby. Besides, the reports that I have read suggest there is no way of knowing if this use of time will be in vain. (i.e. what do they do with the information) This might be a great tool for some of the more serious callers trying to extract information.

3) Of course, there is always the option that every time you get a call from a number not in your phone, you don't answer. Super easy if you don't do business from your cell, you only connect with a pre-defined group of people on a daily basis or you don't have kids that might need to call you in an emergency. In actuality, I have found myself employing this philosophy more and more lately. Most of the robocalls will automatically leave a message and I can screen the message on the backend. 

4) However, If you, for some reason, think that you might owe back taxes, hangup with the caller and you can call your tax professional or contact the IRS directly.

5) If you are concerned about your Social Security number, hang up with the caller and you can follow these tips from the social security administration.

6) If you want to verify that there isn't something fraudulent going on with your identity, you can hang up and call your local police department and they can do a check.

After screening the calls, you can then take a few additional steps:

1) After you go into the voicemail and determine that it's not a caller you want contacting you, block them. Here's a photo of the Block feature on an iphone.

2) You can then either delete the number or label it as spam in your phonebook. The problem with the latter is it then is considered a trusted contact by the app that is filtering your calls and will continue to ring through. However, you will easily recognize it's not a call you want to answer. Really, this is a personal preference. (I choose to delete the calls)

Protect yourself. Always verify what the caller is saying by calling the number on your statement or government provided website. I know people who have received calls claiming to be local utility providers who claim payments are overdue. Even if it's true, tell them you will go online and take care of it. Log into your account (or call the number on your statement) for TV, internet, cell phone, power, etc and verify what they are claiming is legitimate. The easiest way to protect your identity and sanity is to 1) not answer, 2) if you do, hang up on them, 3) verify the claim via a trusted source. Oh, and never use a number they provide you as a reference!

Reference: SEC Website

Reference: AT&T Call Protect