Stop calling back every number in your “missed calls” list

Today, I received a phone call from a stranger who demanded to know who I was. No greeting, just “who’s this?”

I declined to answer (because we don’t give out ANY personal information to people who call us, right, class?), instead telling them that it seemed they had the wrong number. This person then insisted that I had called them, and they wanted to know why.

“I didn’t call you. I haven’t called anyone today,” I replied. (I wasn’t even stretching the truth for emphasis—other than a couple text messages and posting something about Beethoven’s birthday [Happy 245th, Viggy!] on a social media account, I had not used my phone for communication purposes all day. I still haven’t, actually.)

“It says you called me,” they said.

“Maybe there’s a mistake,” I offered. I have an incredibly easy-to-mis-dial mobile number, and I figured someone had called them from one of the several same-digits-in-same-order-but-different-quantity-of-each phone numbers that exist.

They just hung up, because of course they did. Hopefully this person had simply mis-dialed and realized their mistake.

But there is a more sinister possibility, here: scam callers almost always use fake caller ID. There is a possibility that my number was the one they happened to use for a round of scam calls; this caller did share both the area code and interchange with my number.

Now, if that was what happened in this case, the damage is limited. They called the spoofed phone number back, which happened to be mine. I explained that I didn’t make any calls, they got angry and hung up, I blocked their number (just in case, and also because I was a little annoyed as well).

But what if a scam call had been placed using a number that was attached to a phone number owned by the perpetrators? This person might have, in going through their list of missed calls, run straight into a trap designed to steal money, personal information, or both.

I wasn’t aware of this until recently, but it appears that a lot of people look at their “missed calls” list every day, and call back every single number. Because of the very real possibility of running headlong into fraud, I cannot recommend against this activity strongly enough.

If someone is truly calling for a legitimate, important reason, they will leave a message or call back later. There is no good reason to try to find out what’s on the other end of every single random phone number that attempts to reach you every day. A lot of those calls are going to be from people you do not want in your life.

(Some of the numbers you do recognize may be, too, but that’s outside the scope of this article…)

When a stranger calls…don’t go loading up a Green Dot card, then giving them the number and PIN

In what appears to be a new twist on an old scam (aren’t they all, though?), some people have reported a new round of lottery scam phone calls.

In this variation, the would-be victim is told they’ve won a major award, then instructed to purchase a Green Dot (or other brand) card, load it with a specific amount of money, then call the scammer back with the card number and PIN.

What would happen next, of course, is that the scammer would use this information to unload the card and leave the victim without a million dollars or a Mercedes.

It’s easy to see through once you take a step back: the out-of-nowhere call informs you of your fabulous prizes, the bizarre instructions to claim said prizes. The fact that, once you give someone a Green Dot card number and PIN, whatever money is in the account is as good as theirs.

You know what would be awesome? If they ever catch one of these scammers, instead of sending them to jail, forcing them to actually deliver the prizes they promised. “What? Six months in jail? Pfft. Oh, no. You told 106 people they’d won a Mercedes and a million dollars. Now cough ’em up…

DEA Scam (or: How Law Enforcement Works)

I’m proud to say I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of how arrests are made by federal agencies such as the DEA.

And I intend to keep it that way, thank you very much. If I was going to make a list of “Things That Aren’t Worth the Trouble,” violating federal drug enforcement laws would be in the top five, along with “trying to play King’s Quest III without hints” and talk radio.

However, I read. I’ve seen a few news stories in my day. I listen. I’m educated enough to make a few guesses here and there, so I’m pretty confident in this assumption:

When the DEA is going to arrest you, they do this: show up with very little warning (usually none), place you in handcuffs or similar restraining device, read all the “rights” stuff and place you in an official vehicle (or “cuff ’em and stuff ’em,” if you’re Roscoe P. Coltrane).

When the DEA is going to arrest you, they don’t do this: call you on the phone a couple hours in advance to leave a message telling you of the impending arrest, and then offer a way for you to cough up some money to get out of it.

However, this is the basis of a current telephone scam. They accuse you of purchasing illegal diet pills on the Internet, then tell you the warrant will go away if you just pay some money.

I’m no expert on Standard Operating Procedure, but I’ll bet you a dollar-dang-fifty that ain’t it.

If you get one of these calls or messages claiming to come from the DEA (or ATF, FBI, CIA, Interpol, Scotland Yard, the dudes on Barney Miller or anybody else), here’s what you should do: hang up (or erase the message) and go about your day.

The grandchild-in-trouble scam claims another victim

According to a story in today’s edition of the NWI Times, a local senior citizen lost $3,200 to an overseas scammer.

This time, the victim got a call from someone that claimed to be his grandson. The caller said he had been arrested in Madrid, Spain, and needed the victim to wire $3,200 to bail him out.

After the victim wired money the first time, he got another call saying the transfer hadn’t gone through. He was asked to return to Western Union and wire another $3,200. It was at this point that the Western Union agent noticed that the first transfer had been successful, and the scam was uncovered.

This type of scam seems to be showing up more lately, which is to be expected in a world economy that’s seen better days. And let’s face it—it’s an easy scam to pull off, and the chances of being caught are low, so it’s an attractive crime to a lot of people.

You have to make sure your older relatives are aware of this scam. It doesn’t take much work to find out the names of grandchildren these days. Plus, an experienced crook doesn’t even need to know the grandchild’s name in advance; they’ll get the victim to say it at some point.

Tell them, “If you ever get a call from one of us saying they’re in trouble in some foreign country, and they’re asking you to wire money, please call us at home before you do anything, because it’s probably a scammer.”

Grandparents are more likely to have trouble hearing than others (at least for now, until earbud headphones have their way), an especially on the telephone, so it’s easier to trick them into thinking a caller is their grandchild. This goes double if the child in question was seven the last time they saw Meemaw. Have your kids called their grandparents lately? Maybe it’s time.

Of course, that’s not just a fraud prevention tip.

Call Forwarding Scams

There’s a scam making headlines here in Northwest Indiana lately, and it’s actually one I hadn’t heard of until now.

Known as the Call Forwarding Scam (sometimes the *72 Scam), this setup begins when you get a call from a person who claims to have been arrested on some minor violation. They claim to have dialed the wrong number, but since “you only get one phone call” when you’re hauled in, they need you to forward the call to a relative (usually because someone has to pick up their kids from school). The caller instructs you to dial *72, followed by another phone number, which forwards the call.

What actually happens is that you’ve set your phone to forward all incoming calls to this number, which is likely a cell phone owned by the scammer. The crook now tells his friends, family and accomplices to call him collect at your number, which bills the call to you, but forwards it to him.

The variation that showed up here in NWI recently took a different approach; this time, the scammer claimed the victim’s son had been in a wreck, and to dial *72 and a phone number for more information.

Avoiding this type of scam is as simple as never punching codes into your telephone at the request of a stranger. They might try to play on your emotions, but you have to maintain some objectivity, no matter what they say. You have no way of verifying if that caller is who they claim to be.

Make-a-Wish Foundation Scam

I just learned about this one from ABC News, by way of Scam Victims United: apparently someone has been calling people telling them they’ve won a sweepstakes sponsored by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which turns out to be another case of advance fee fraud. Victims report having lost thousands of dollars to this scheme.

Three observations about this scam:

  1. I’ve never heard of a charity running any kind of sweepstakes. I’m not saying it never happens, but usually these organizations ask you for money; they don’t hand it out to random people.
  2. You have to enter a sweepstakes, drawing, raffle or lottery in order to win a sweepstakes, drawing, raffle or lottery. When it comes to rules that define how the physical universe operates, this one is right up there with relativity and Newton’s laws.
  3. I really can’t think of a sleazier way to run a scam than by using the Make-a-Wish Foundation name. These crooks really are just the worst type of people.

Once again, the old common-sense maxim applies: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Also, if you’ve really won something, never pay in advance to claim your prize. That’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Add your phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry

The National Do Not Call Registry is a vital step towards limiting your exposure to scams and fraud.

To add up to three phone numbers at one time to the Registry, simply visit and click “Register a Phone Number.” There will be spaces to enter your phone numbers and a couple blanks for your email address (they make you type it twice to confirm; it’s one of the oldest methods to get people to enter correct addresses). Then you hit “Submit.”

After this, you’ll get a separate email message for each number you entered. You have to click on the links in these messages (or use copy/paste) to finalize your registration. I know, I always warn against clicking links in emails, but in this case, they are solicited—you’re the one who contacted them first, and asked for the service. At this point, you’re done.

You used to have to re-register every couple years, but they passed a new law a while back that makes Do Not Call Registry entries permanent. This means that, after a couple weeks, you’ll never get a telemarketing call again, for as long as you have the phone number you entered.

But wait, what if you do get a telemarketing call? One of two possibilities:

  1. It’s a legitimate call from a company you already have a relationship with, or it is from an exempt organization (I’m pretty sure political parties are an example). These calls are not prohibited and probably never will be.
  2. It’s a rogue entity that is completely ignoring the Registry, and is therefore running some form of scam.

It serves as an instant litmus test—if your number is on the Registry, anybody who makes a sales call to you is already violating federal law, so they probably don’t have any qualms about committing fraud.

Fraud Alert: CUNA does not contact credit union members.

Reports of a phishing attack using the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) have come in from the Park Hills, Missouri area.

In this scam, victims were contacted on the telephone by an automated message claiming to represent CUNA and telling them their ATM cards had been deactivated. Victims were instructed to enter card numbers and PINs. It’s not known whether anyone fell for it.

CUNA is a trade organization for credit unions. They do not have your account details, or even know your name. They are not a financial institution; there is no such thing as a “CUNA account,” unless you’re a credit union and you’re buying Credit Union Youth Week marketing materials from them.

Never give out card numbers, PINs or other account information to anyone who requests it online or by phone. It doesn’t matter who they claim to be, what the caller ID says, or if it “sounds” like it could be legitimate. It never is. If you’re unsure, hang up and use a verified phone number to contact your financial institution directly.

Grandparent scams claim another victim.

Today I heard about a local victim of what has come to be known as the “Grandparent Scam.”

The victim in this case was contacted by a person who claimed to be their grandson. He told the victim that he’d been in an auto wreck in Vancouver, and needed $900 because he hadn’t purchased insurance on the rental car. The victim wired the money, then received another call from the crook, asking for an additional sum. However, by this time the victim had been informed that it was a scam.

Still, $900. Nobody needs to lose that.

If you are a grandparent, it is imperative that you are informed about this type of crime. The con artists are banking on your not being able to recognize your grandchild’s voice. Through websites like Facebook, it is very easy for criminals to get information about family members online, which can add legitimacy to a caller’s story.

If someone calls, press them for information that only the real grandchild would know. Better yet, hang up and call the grandchild directly. I’ve heard of several cases of this scam being averted by the phrase, “No, meemaw, I’m not in Canada.”

They may claim to be in jail, injured, or in some other bind, but you have to avoid panicking in this situation. Know that in most cases, that call is a scam, especially when the caller claims to be overseas. Ask for a callback number and contact the parents or the grandchild himself.

Also know that money is irretrievable once wired out of the country.

If you know someone who is a grandparent, make sure you tell them about this scam. And have your kids give them a call now and then, just so they know their voices. It’s an easy scam to avoid if you’re informed.

Fraud Alert: beware of callers who claim to represent Medicare.

Last week, a member of our credit union had a close call with a Medicare scam.

The member received a phone call from someone who claimed to be from Medicare. The caller stated that they were going to issue the member a new Medicare card, and needed the member’s account and routing number to proceed.

As soon as the member revealed this information, the line went dead. Sensing trouble, the member immediately called REGIONAL and had alerts placed on the account before any fraudulent withdrawals could occur.

I think this is what they call a “teachable moment.”

First, Medicare is never going to call you asking for your financial account information, nor would they need this in order to issue new cards.

However, I know these people can be convincing on the phone, and when someone is telling you your Medicare could be cut off, it’s hard not to react.

So that’s the other lesson today: if you get that sinking feeling seconds after a phone call or revealing information on a website, call the affected financial institution immediately to have your account locked down (and, ideally, start the process of closing the account and opening a new one with a different number).

If you’ve revealed more than just an account number and are concerned about identity theft, call the three credit reporting agencies right away and have identity theft alerts placed on your credit reports:

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian:  1-888-EXPERIAN

Even though you could just call one of the above, and the other two will have the information within 24 hours, go ahead an call all three yourself, just to make sure.

The faster you act, the less chance the bad guys have of harming you.