Unless you’re really lucky you’ve probably gotten spam/scam calls, often robotic ones. The smart money is on refusing to pick up the phone if it displays an unfamiliar area code (especially a toll-free one).
But if you have friends or family in places like Detroit (313), Houston (713) or Fort Lauderdale (954), you might pick up.
Those three cities are three of the top 10 area codes used by spam callers, according to a company called Whitepages. The others are:
Eastern and Southeastern Pennsylvania (484)
Washington, DC (202)
Dallas again (972)
A new toll-free area code, 855, is also showing up as a scam fave.
Whitepages recently released an enhanced iteration of its free Caller ID app, which reveals area codes and features a spam identification system. Analyzing billions of calls, texts and phone lookups from its 50 million customers, the company gives consumers a better chance at avoiding unwanted communication.
“Many people fall victim to these phone scams because they’re receiving calls from area codes familiar to them, often times seemingly from their backyards,” says Bret Moore, vice president of products for Whitepages.
Note: I am not receiving anything for writing about this app. I just think it’s a good – and free! – tool for smartphone users. Time magazine thinks so, too, putting Caller ID on its list of 50 Best Android Apps for 2014.
The IRS doesn’t call, it writes
That 202 area code is a matter of particular concern right now, as an “aggressive and sophisticated phone scam” is currently making the rounds, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Con artists are altering their phones to make it look as though they’re calling from area code 202, i.e., our nation’s capital. They’ve apparently bought lists from companies that sell consumer information, since they seem to know a lot about the people they call.
Here’s where the story falls apart: You’ll be told that you owe money and must pay it through a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But people are falling for it, especially since the callers sometimes become “hostile and insulting,” and threaten “arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license.”
On the other hand, consumers are sometimes told they’re due a refund and asked for private information. Please know this: The IRS never calls to demand immediate payment and it always sends a letter first. Officers will never ask for debit or credit numbers over the phone. You also have the right to appeal any taxes you may or may not owe.
Recently one of these creeps called personal finance expert Liz Weston. Sadly, it landed in her voice mail:
“Oh, the fun I could have had with this idiot! Here’s me, pretending to be all scared and upset…drawing him in, getting him all excited about the money he was going to scam from me…and then Boom! Telling him exactly what I thought of his morals, his conduct, his parentage and what bug he’ll be incarnated into the next go-round,” Weston wrote.
She called back and got a different “agent” than the one who’d phoned: “(He) told me that ‘complete audits’ of my tax returns from 2002 to 2012 had turned up ‘errors and miscalculations’ and that the government was going to the courthouse to file a lawsuit against me within two hours. When he demanded to know if I had a lawyer and I said yes, though, he didn’t seem to know what to say next, and hung up on me. So I didn’t get to unleash at all.”
Let it ring
Do spread the word about this IRS scam, especially to any family/friends with any cognitive impairment – or who are just getting along in years. The Federal Trade Commission reports that “older people may be targeted [for all scams] because the caller assumes they may live alone, have a nest egg, or may be more polite toward strangers.”
Lowlifes. I hope they all get bleeding piles.
Sometimes we late-adopters can avoid modern hassles. Specifically, those of us whose landlines have both caller ID and answering machines.
Here at Casa Cynical we don’t answer if the number displayed is unfamiliar to us. When the phone displays simply “incoming calls,” we wait — almost all the scammers hang up after three rings.
Very occasionally a robocall will leave a message, e.g., “we want to help you lower your credit card bill.” Which sounds pretty funny to a couple of frugalists who never carry credit card balances.
Even more rare is the call from someone we actually know who is either using another person’s cellphone or is calling from on the road. There’s a remedy for that, too: Start leaving a message and we’ll pick up.