In the midst of your busy day, you'd never answer an obvious junk call from "Vacation Club America" or "Sweepstakes Central." But you wouldn't think twice about picking up if Caller ID showed it was your doctor, daughter, bank or even a local law enforcement agency. And scammers know it.
In a technique called "spoofing," they turn your Caller ID against you. Spoofing masks the real number they're calling from and substitutes one you recognize (or at least a local area code). The caller might say you've won some bogus contest, or worse, impersonate a business you trust, claiming an account-security problem that can only be solved if you give them personal information, passwords or even bank or credit card numbers. The most despicable version of the scam shows a call coming from a loved one's phone (grandchildren are a favorite) with a "poor connection" disguising the voice well enough that you can only make out a desperate plea for money, usually because they've been stranded by a broken-down car, thrown in jail or even kidnapped.
The best advice from law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission: If anything seems off about a call, even if you recognize the name or number shown on Caller ID, hang up. To test if a call was real, call back by punching in a number you've looked up online or stored in your contacts. Don't hit "last call return" or dial from "Recents." Businesses and loved ones will appreciate your diligence. And you could save yourself aggravation, heartache or maybe some cash.
If you realize the scam too late and you've already given out sensitive information, call your bank or credit card company immediately so it can cancel the card to stop future charges. And let us know, too. While insurance can't cover money lost to scammers, you and family members living in your home do have free identity theft assistance though PEMCO ID Smart™. We'll connect you (confidentially) with a personal fraud advocate if you even suspect there might be a problem. To learn more, visit pemco.com/idsmart.
PEMCO ID Smart is powered by CyberScout®, the nation's leader in identity management and fraud education.
CUT DOWN ON ANNOYING ROBOCALLS
Nearly half of all cellphone calls are robocalls that originate from a computer and go to thousands of numbers at once. You can place your number on the National Do Not Call Registry to stop solicitors selling through interstate phone calls (there are tough penalties for companies that ignore it). However, it doesn't stop calls by political organizations, charities or telephone surveyors and, if a caller is scamming anyway, it probably won't discourage them.
You also may be able to sign up with a screening service like Nomorobo, which has been around for a few years. It's free for landlines and available for a monthly subscription fee for cellphones. It automatically hangs up after the first ring if it detects an illegal robocaller or telemarketer. (Legitimate robocalls, like doctor appointment reminders, and charity and political calls can still get through.) You can get the app from Google Play or the App Store. Or, for landlines, check the Nomorobo site to see carriers supported. If yours is among them, it will lead you step-by-step through the signup process. We tested it with a Comcast Xfinity landline, and it worked for us.