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Don’t get scammed

Iowa AG’s office says fraudulent calls, scams on the increase

“I have important information regarding fraudulent activity associated with your Social Security number…”

It’s a call we are all too familiar with and it seems these robocalls and other scams, are increasing by the day.

According to the office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, they are. With over 4 billion being logged for 2018, that’s up from the 2.6 billion calls from 2017. Calls in 2019 are expected to top previous tallies.

Initially, the fraudulent phone call or text appears to originate from a legitimate site and the message is delivered by a live person or via robocall. But the one thing a person receiving that call needs to understand is that a government entity, bank or credit card company will not call or email you and request personal information, warns Lynn Hicks, Communication Director for the Iowa Attorney General office.

“Instead, you would receive legitimate letters in the mail regarding your information,” noted Hicks.

The scammers are becoming so sophicated that a Caller ID can display the phone number from the Social Security Administration, credit card company, insurance company, travel agency, vehicle warranty bureau or bank, said Hicks. This is called Spoofing and when a person hits the callback number to return the call, it is rerouted to the scam center.

Hicks cautions that if you are ever contacted regarding a breech of your personal information, ask for the department or business making the call. Then hang up and locate that phone number either on billing you already have or look up the phone number on the official website.

Again, Hicks warns citizens from using the call back feature of their phone. With their sophisticated technology, scammers are able to display the legitimate contact number but the call is routed to a scam center.

Hicks emphasizes that no matter how official the caller sounds, a legitimate business or government department will not call you and they will not pressure you into releasing any personal information over the phone.

Never give personal banking, credit card or Social Security numbers on a call that you did not make yourself, cautioned Hicks.

That is an important point to keep in mind, said Hicks. Sometimes the scammers have enough information to make them sound like a legitimate authority.

“They will state some of your information and then ask you to verify important numbers,” such as a Social Security number, bank information or credit card number, explained Hicks.

The best rule of thumb for the consumer is to let a call go to voicemail from a phone number you don’t recognize, said Hicks.

Scammers are taking advantage of people of all ages, explained Hicks. People duped by these vandals range from the elderly and retired seniors to young people in their 20s.

“People of all ages have fallen victim as well,” he said.

There are a number of strategies a person can employ to protect themselves from being scammed by phone thieves, said Hicks.

The first defense is to not answer a call from a number you don’t know. The second is to simply hang up.

Hicks encourages the public to call their phone company to report any scams and also to inquire about blocking services. Several companies have free services and others provide service for a $3-$4 monthly fee.

Hicks warned of downloading some free phone apps that access your contact list and then expose those contacts to robo invasion. Speak with your carrier in order to identify legitimate phone blocking services.

Hicks directs the public to check out the Social Security Administration’s website on safeguarding their personal information.

On the website, there are instructions on how to sign up on the Do Not Call Registry of the Federal Communication Commission for free and it covers both landlines and wireless phones. The registry phone number is 1 888-382-1222.

In registering on the Do Not Call list, you prevent harassing calls from telemarketers but there are exceptions. You may still receive phone calls from businesses you have worked with in the past 18 months, businesses contacting you about an existing debt, contract, payment or appointment. You will still receive calls from tax exempt or non-profit entities, from companies you have conducted or begun business with in the past year and from organizations which have your prior consent.

You will also receive health, safety and emergency calls such as Amber Alerts.

If a person has lost money in connection with a phone scam, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement, the Iowa Attorney General Office’s Consumer Protection Division at 888-777-4590. They can also contact the FCC Consumer Complaint Center or the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.

The Iowa Attorney General office is currently working with a bipartisan coalition of 51 state attorneys general to try halting telemarketer calls.

“Iowans are fed up with robocalls and the calls are more than a hassle,” reads a statement from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. “Scammers are targeting vulnerable people”.

The coalition is seeking a policy that implements call-blocking technology at no cost to the consumer and makes available additional free and easy-to-use call-blocking and labeling tools.

The policy would also implement technology that would authenticate calls from a valid source and would require phone companies to monitor phone networks for robocall traffic.

The legislation would also identify bad actors and investigate their activities and allow states to take action against them.

Another tool would allow phone companies to apply trace back identification.

The Social Security Administration offers three tips to consumers regarding telemarketing phone calls:

Understand the threats – Phone scammers claim to be from the Social Security Administration, the IRS or other government agency or offer news about about lottery winnings or investment opportunities for a fee

Exercise caution – No government agency or company will call or email you unexpectedly and ask for personal information or request fees

Store important information in a secure place – Do not carry your Social Security card with you, shred all documents with Social Security numbers, personal ID numbers and passwords, banking statements and credit card information

The Social Security Administration also cautions the public from opening up emails from unknown sources or clicking on suspicious links. Users should install strong anti-virus software on their computers and use and maintain strong passwords.

Consumers should also check and monitor credit reports often for suspicious activity.

To report scams or attempted scams, contact the Social Security Administration Scam Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.

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