Since the telegraph was invented, lurkers have been on the other side of the phone line trying to scam and rip off as many uninformed and unsuspecting people as they possibly can. For instance, your phone rings and the caller identifies himself as a police officer or law official. He or she goes on to tell the tale of your grandson being caught, red handed, texting while driving and needs $500 to get out of jail. The “officer” then suggests you go buy a few gift cards totaling $500 and read him the numbers to make this as quick and painless as possible, for every party involved. In recent weeks, the Apple iTunes gift card have been frequently suggested as a quick and easy way to make this payment.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of our scam alerts, you would of course be wise to this to an extent. You’d have a good laugh at the caller, and maybe even egg him or her on a bit before hanging up. There are a lot of people, however, especially seniors, that tend to fall for scams such as this.
Besides pretending to be cops, the scam artists tend to pose as government officials from agencies like the IRS and FBI as well. They may claim they are collecting back taxes or unpaid fines and threaten immediate arrest if payment isn’t made.
The catch, of course, is that these gift cards can be used as cash without a trace of a paper trail, so the scammers are able to get away and the consumer is unable to recover the pilfered funds.
The FCC notes that government agencies and legitimate companies never demand payment via gift cards. Anyone who believes they have been targeted by this scam should immediately report the incident to the company linked to the gift card (such as Apple Support at 800-275-2273), to local police, and to the FCC’s Consumer Help Center.
The FCC offers these tips to avoid being victimized:
- Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
- If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, independently look up the organization’s publicly listed phone number or legitimate website, and contact them through an official number, web form or email address to see if they called you.
- If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify – and then target – live respondents.
- If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC so it can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
- Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage the provider to start offering it. You can also visit the FCC’s website for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.
If you, or somebody you know has been cheated by this scam (or one like it) please let us know so we can help spread the word. Remember, stay sharp and read our updates as they are posted, as this well help you stay as well informed as possible to help drown these scams before they start.