In advertising, provoking an emotion can be a very effective way to increase sales. Fear, for example, is a very powerful emotion. Advertisers will appeal to that emotion by telling a quick story to frighten consumers, like: “Millions of people have their identities stolen every year,” or “Did you know criminals can forge your name and take out a mortgage on your home.” Then, the advertiser offers a way for you to protect yourself against those things happening, usually for a monthly fee.
Unfortunately, criminal con artists know this trick as well, and every year they fleece unsuspecting Americans out of billions (billions with a b) of dollars by playing to an emotion, usually fear.
A typical scam attempt may start with you receiving a phone call from the “Internal Revenue Service” or the “Social Security Administration”. While the call may actually be coming from overseas, the con artists use spoofing technology to make the phone number appear to be from somewhere in the U.S. Many times you’ll hear a recorded or computerized message saying something like, “We have detected suspicious activity on your social security number. If you don’t call us back we will issue an arrest warrant in your name.” In many cases, that’s scary enough to get a return call.
These con artists are skilled. Think about all of the merchant data breaches you’ve seen in the news. A lot of times con artists seem more legitimate because they’ll have some information about you. They might give you a Case #, and if you call them back, they will answer their phone as the Department or Agency they are pretending to be from. The Scam always ends with the need for you to give them money or information.
You can protect yourself by knowing and following a few simple rules:
- Never give information about your Social Security Number, accounts, or credit cards to anyone who initiates contact with you.
- Your Social Security Number will never be “suspended” as the result of a phone call.
- Neither the IRS nor the Social Security Administration will ever threaten you with an arrest warrant over the phone. Usually, legitimate contacts will occur through the mail. If you are threatened over the phone, it’s a scam.
- No legitimate governmental agencies demand payment by wire transfer or prepaid VISA cards. If
someone tells you to buy VISA Gift Cards and give them the numbers on the front and the scratch off PIN on the back, it is a scam.
If someone claiming to be from the IRS or Social Security or another governmental agency tells you not to tell anyone about the call, it’s a scam. The con artists don’t want anyone to have the opportunity to tell you it’s a scam. Trust your gut. If it seems funny, look up the number for the entity supposedly calling you yourself. Don’t use a number the caller gives you. Call them, and explain the situation. In nearly 100% of situations, they’ll tell you it’s a scam.