Slam the Scam: Just hang up, don’t text back, delete the email
TINA L. SCOTT
The fourth annual Slam the Scam Day was recognized on March 9, 2023, but every day should be Slam the Scam Day. What does Slam the Scam mean? In short, it means just hang up the phone. If you receive calls that you suspect may be fraudulent or scams, hang up, and if you get repeated and persistent calls, talk to your phone provider about apps or programs that could pre-screen incoming phone numbers to help reduce or eliminate scam calls. For instance, T-Mobile has a Scam Shield app to block or reduce scam calls and enable users to report scam calls and texts.
Scammers are getting smarter, using every means necessary to scam unsuspecting people, and often target the elderly or particular groups of people.
In addition to phone calls, these days scams can also come in the form of unsolicited text messages. Robotexts (texts auto-generated) are one of the latest methods. Scammers are even reaching out to people via social media and instant messages. And, of course, scams also still come via unsolicited emails.
The best scammers typically use one of these tactics: they play on your generosity, they use fear (i.e., threaten you with arrest, disconnection of services, or that your computer will crash, or suggesting one of your loved ones is in jail or something else bad happened to them, or they are giving you something that sounds way too good to be true (“Congratulations, you’ve won …”) … for just a payment of … In every case, they want either your personal information or your money in one form or another (cash, debit card numbers, wire transfer, for you to buy gift cards or pre-paid debit cards) or both.
And in all cases, scammers make the circumstances urgent. They want you to act fast, right now, before you lose this opportunity or before something bad happens to you or someone you love, etc. Really, they want you to act fast before you think about the situation or investigate further and realize they are a fraud, that this is a scam, that you are being played, and that they are trying to take your money. Scammers are incredible imposters and awesome actors. Most sound very legit. Don’t fall for it.
Key signs of a scam, according to the Social Security Administration
A press release from the Social Security Administration provides the following basic signs of a scam to help identify and stop fraudulent activity.
• Scammers pretend to be from an agency or organization you know to gain your trust.
• Scammers say there is a problem or a prize.
• Scammers pressure you to act immediately.
• Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way.
Common scams include:
• Free vacations and prizes (“You’ve won …”)
• Phishing scams (Asking for your personal information)
• Loan scams
• Job scams (see separate article: “How to spot a job scam” in this edition)
• Phony debt collectors
• Fake charities
• Medical alert/scams targeting seniors
• Warrant threats
• Threatening calls from the IRS
• Phony technical support calls
• Lottery scams
• Family members or friends in peril and/or scammers pretending to be your family members or friends urgently needing money
• Bank fraud calls
• Amazon impersonators
• Insurance and health care scams
• Website password requests
• Fake customer requests
• Other urgent requests
This list isn’t all-inclusive. Scammers are constantly figuring out new ways to get people to give them their money and/or personal information. That, of course, leads to identity theft and potentially even greater financial losses.
First, know this: If you owe money to Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights. You should never pay a government fee or fine using retail gift cards, cash, internet currency, wire transfers, or pre-paid debit cards. If something changes with Medicare, they will also contact you by mail.
Likewise, if you owe money to a creditor, whether that is a utility company, medical facility, credit card company, or anyone else, as long as that entity has your correct mailing address, you will receive mail notification of those debts unless you have opted out of paper statements. (If in doubt, call to find out and ask for paper statements again.)
And you will only receive text messages or emails from legitimate businesses or creditors if you have opted in to receive texts or emails from a particular agency, bank, or creditor.
More details on scam tactics
Some of the most widely-known scam call, text, and email tactics include:
- Telling you that your auto warranty is almost up (when you don’t even have an auto warranty).
- Saying there is a problem with the delivery of your package. (If you’re expecting a package, reach out to the merchant directly to inquire.)
- Calls, texts, or emails requiring payment by mailing cash, wire transfer, internet currency, pre-paid debit cards, or retail gift card payments to fix problems or avoid arrest.
- Contacting you to say there is a problem with your Social Security Number and asking you to call back to clear up the problem and/or to “verify” your Social Security Number.
- Messages saying you’ve been approved for a loan you didn’t apply for.
- Calls or messages indicating someone tried to charge something to your credit or debit card. (While fraud detection agencies are legit, it is best to call your bank or credit card company directly if these types of calls sound at all suspicious or if the caller is asking for anything other than confirmation of whether or not you made a specific purchase to a specific merchant in a specific amount on a specific date and if that was really you, and the caller should provide that information to you, not the other way around. If in doubt, hang up and call your bank or card company directly using the number on the back of your credit or debit card.)
- Calls, texts, or emails from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA communicates via mail, not phone, text, or email unless they are calling you back regarding a matter you initiated or unless they are authenticating your online account. They don’t ask for your information.
- Calls or messages indicating your benefits will be increased for a fee or payment (Social Security or any kind of benefits).
- Calls claiming to be from Medicare asking you to “verify” or provide your Medicare number, saying Medicare is issuing new cards, claiming your Medicare coverage is about to be canceled, saying you can receive early access to special vaccines or you have an appointment for free genetic testing, telling you that you qualify for free medical supplies, saying you’re eligible for a refund, or telling you that you’re pre-approved for a cheaper or better plan.
- Calls or messages saying your computer is infected and will crash and they will help you fix it and asking you to download a software or share your computer screen with them. (They do this to get into your computer and hack into your personal information.)
- Calls, texts, or emails asking for your website or computer passwords.
Avoid becoming a victim of a scam
Here are some tips to help avoid getting scammed:
- Don’t answer telephone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. If you do, and the call seems at all suspicious, hang up immediately.
- If you get a voice mail telling you to call back about a matter that sounds fishing, don’t call back.
- If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Hang up the phone.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited text messages from people you don’t know.
- Never give out your passwords or PIN numbers.
- Never make payments by purchasing gift cards or pre-paid debit cards for anything. This is a well-known scam tactic, where scammers tell people to purchase gift cards and then give them the numbers on the back of the cards.
- Never make payments by wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash.
- Calls that demand immediate payment are suspect. If you know you are behind on a bill, hang up the call. Find a legitimate number on your billing statement to call to make payment and call that number to pay the amount due to ensure you are really dealing with your creditor and not some scammer. If the caller threatens arrest, you know for sure it’s a scam.
- Ignore text messages about matters unfamiliar to you such as those telling you there is a problem delivering an order. (If you placed an order with a merchant, call that merchant directly to see if there is a problem or call the legitimate number for the delivery service to inquire.)
- If you receive a call or text indicating someone tried to charge something you didn’t authorize to your credit or debit card, hang up and call your bank or credit card company directly. Don’t give out any of your personal information or credit or debit card information unless you initiate the call.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited emails, offers, or claims. Again, look up an authorized phone number or email for the agency the email claims to represent and reach out to see if the email is legit before responding. See all of the above tips, as well. (i.e., don’t purchase gift cards for anyone asking you to do so in an email, don’t provide your credit or debit card information via email, and don’t respond to any supposed creditor with payment information this way)(See #6 and 7 above)
- Any call, text, or message that references you getting arrested is a scam. That’s not how the legal system works.
- Never give out your personal information or Social Security number to someone you don’t know for a reason you didn’t initiate.
- Never share personal information via text or email, and never give out personal information to someone who is calling you. (See #8, 9, 10, and 11 above).
If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam, report it to your local police or sheriff’s department and also the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the main agency that collects scam reports. Report the scam to the FTC online at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/ or by phone at 1.877.382.4357 (9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. ET)