"As seniors, how can we protect ourselves from the multitude of phone calls from fraudsters and scammers? The National Do Not Call Registry is ineffective."
– customer Marcia S.
Marcia, you're right in noting that the Do Not Call Registry can't stop all nuisance phone calls. It's designed to stem the tide of solicitors selling goods or services through interstate phone calls (and it carries stiff fines for companies that don't play by the rules).
However, it doesn't limit calls by political organizations, charities, or telephone surveyors. And if callers have larcenous intent, the Do Not Call Registry likely won't discourage them.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimates that one in every five phone calls made is a "robocall," originating from a computer and going to thousands of phone numbers at once. These mass solicitations are cheap, far-reaching, hard to trace, and a favorite tool of scammers. AARP suggests these four tipoffs can help you identify scam calls:
- Assume that if they're selling, they're scamming. "Free" medical devices, vacations, alarm systems, offers to cut your credit card rate – however enticing or legitimate they make the offers sound, just hang up.
- If it's not personal, it's probably a scam. Auto-dialers don't know who they're calling. They won't mention your name or other identifying information. And you'll often hear a second or two of dead air after you've answered as the computer routes the call to a telemarketer.
- Don't get tricked by caller ID. Scammers can use local numbers, numbers marked "Private," or even numbers that appear to be from agencies like the IRS. Look out for those! The IRS uses the U.S. Mail, not phone calls, for official business, so those ominous-sounding callers who claim you owe back taxes are always bogus.
- Don't give them fuel. Unless it's a robocall you're expecting (like an appointment confirmation from your doctor's office), hang up or don't pick up at all. Pressing the "opt out" key just lets scammers know they have a working number with a person who answers!
If you use an Internet-based phone service (like Xfinity by Comcast, Verizon FiOS, or Vonage), you can sign up with Nomorobo, a free service that screens your calls and automatically hangs up after the first ring if it detects an illegal robocaller or telemarketer. (Legitimate robocalls and charity and political calls can still get through.) The Nomorobo site displays the carriers supported and, if yours is among them, it will lead you step-by-step through the signup process for your carrier. We tested it with Xfinity by Comcast and it worked for us. But fair warning: The signup process requires a number of steps online, so you'll want to make sure you have more than a few minutes to spare when you do it.
Your concerns about fraud, Marcia, are grounded in an unfortunate fact: Washington ranks No. 2 nationwide in identity theft, and Oregon ranks No. 3 (only Florida tops them). However, as a PEMCO customer, you have a powerful friend in your corner, PEMCO ID Smart, to protect you. It's a value-added service (at no additional cost) that can help you and family members in your household with identity concerns like data breaches, odd credit card charges, lost or stolen passports, email and phishing attacks, and much more. If you even think your identity may have been compromised, call 1-800-GO-PEMCO, and we'll connect you to a personal identity fraud advocate who can help you assess the situation and take steps to shut down the thief and clean up any mess left behind.