What If I Don’t Have Caller ID?

I’m guilty of assuming everyone has caller ID these days. While the feature may be baked right into mobile phones, caller ID service for landline phones is still a feature you usually have to pay extra for. And some people don’t want to.

So how should these holdouts handle telephone scams?

My advice is: get on the list and be quick on the draw. First, add your number to the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Once it takes effect, it will weed out all the legitimate, non-scam phone calls. Anyone who calls with an offer or sales pitch after that is obviously ignoring federal regulations and can be assumed to be attempting to commit fraud. If you’ve answered the phone, hang up as soon as you realize what’s happening.

Second, the vast majority of scammers use automated robocalls, where they ring multiple phones at once and then connect with whomever answers first. That setup takes a moment to function, and causes recognizable audio artifacts. If you’ve answered the phone and don’t get a response within a second or so, you can assume it is a robocall and hang up. If you answer and the first thing you hear is electronic noises (little clicks, bloops, beeps, etc.) or silence, it’s safe to assume you’re dealing with a robocall and hang up.

If you’ve hung up on a legitimate caller, they’ll call back.

Failing the quick-draw hang-up technique, if you find yourself talking to an unexpected caller, the old rules still apply: if they’re trying to make you afraid, it’s probably a scam; if the offer sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam; never wire money to a stranger; the IRS doesn’t call to demand payment over the phone; you didn’t win the lottery; your grandchild isn’t in jail or a hospital overseas; your computer doesn’t have a virus; never press “1” for any reason.

You’re under no obligation to be polite to someone who is trying to trick you out of your money over the phone. You’re allowed to just hang up without explanation.

Medical Alert Scams

According to an article from USA Today, seniors in Michigan, New York, Texas, Wisconsin and Kentucky have reported a new scam involving phone calls claiming victims have been signed up for a medical alert system.

While I haven’t heard of it hitting Indiana or Illinois yet, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before it does. This type of scam rarely confines itself to a few locations.

Many of the calls tell potential victims that a family member or doctor has signed them up for the system, which is likely a sham to begin with. Seniors who fall for the pitch end up being charged monthly fees and risk putting banking and nonpublic personal information into the hands of potential identity thieves.

If you or someone you know gets one of these calls, the best response is to simply hang up, and do not press any buttons to speak to a “live agent” or anyone else. The callers are not affiliated with any doctor, healthcare provider, insurance company, Medicare, or any other entity. They are simply a rogue company attempting to trick you into paying money for a useless service. You do not have to accept delivery of any devices.

While you’re taking a minute to warn others of this scam, make sure you and your family members are signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s free, it only takes a minute, and it serves as an instant litmus test; if you’re on the registry and a company with whom you have no existing relationship is calling you, you already know they’re willing to break federal regulations to sell you something. That doesn’t say much for their whole business model, does it?

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 donotcall.gov 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.