WHY AM I SUDDENLY GETTING LOTS OF SPAM CALLS?
No, your car warranty probably isn’t about to expire. And you haven’t just won 20 million on the lottery. It’s just another one of those spam calls. But why does it seem like these calls have suddenly increased?
Tax season spurs IRS scam calls, even as half of mobile calls are expected to be spam robocalls this year. Here’s how to protect yourself.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, hang up.
A concerned taxpayer recently asked a personal finance community whether a call from an alleged IRS rep was legit; the person claiming to be an agent on the phone threatened that the poster would be “arrested in 24 hours” if he or she didn’t call them back for an unspecified manner.
“IRS calls are a scam, right?” the person asked.
They are. Not only will the IRS never call taxpayers without mailing them first about an issue related to their taxes, but the agency assures on its website that it will never threaten to contact local police or similar authorities, or threaten legal action, for the non-payment of taxes.
Yet even police officers get these kinds of threats. Many crooks are also targeting taxpayers with email phishing scams, which increased 60% in 2018.
Tax season is prime time from scammers, robocallers and cyberthieves to prey on taxpayers — in fact, Tax Day 2021 (April 17) saw more negative (or scam/fraudulent/nuisance) robocalls placed than any other day last year, according to a data analysis by Transaction Network Services, Inc., which counted nearly 200 million high-risk calls made that day alone. And this disturbing trend has led the IRS to release an annual PSA reminding the public that IRS employees will never:
* Call demanding an immediate payment. The IRS won’t call taxpayers if they owe taxes without first sending a bill in the mail.
* Demand payment without allowing taxpayers to question or appeal the amount owed.
* Demand that taxpayers pay their taxes in a specific way, such as with a prepaid debit card.
* Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
* Threaten to contact local police or similar agencies to arrest taxpayers for non-payment of taxes.
* Threaten legal action, such as a lawsuit.
If someone from the IRS does call, hang up and call the IRS at its official number at 800-829-1040 to verify whether the first call was legitimate.
Don’t miss: Don’t pick up! This is the No. 1 time scammers are calling you
Clever con artists often try profiting off of topical subjects, such as these phony IRS and debt collecting calls during tax season, or calling about donations for the holidays or following a national tragedy. They phish for your personal information, or get you to agree to buy shoddy products and accept fraudulent charges. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has warned that the calls asking, “Can you hear me?” or “Do you pay most of the bills in your home?” are probably trying to record you saying “Yes” to use your own voice against you in authorizing charges on a bill or a stolen credit card.
And here’s what else you can do to protect yourself in the meantime.
- REGISTER YOUR NUMBER: Register with the free National Do Not Call Registry if you haven’t already at donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222. This will stop the legit marketers from calling you within a month.
- DON’T PICK UP: When you get an unsolicited call from a number you don’t recognize, let it go to voicemail. Many spammers won’t leave a message. “I hate to say you that you can’t trust any callers these days, but you certainly have to be careful,” said Grant.
- NEVER SAY ‘YES’: If you do answer the suspicious call, or respond to a voice message from an unsolicited caller, do not answer “yes” or offer any personal information during the conversation. If the caller asks something like, “Are you the homeowner?” or “Can you hear me?” politely respond, “Where are you calling from, and why do you need this information?” The sooner you hang up after sensing a call is sketchy, there’s less of a chance you’ll let something slip.
- THE IRS, SOCIAL SECURITY AND THE DMV AREN’T CALLING YOU: Hang up if the caller claims to be from the IRS, Social Security, the DMV or a similar agency, as government officials will only ever reach out to you through the mail, unless you call them first. And many spam callers claim to be debt collectors for debit and credit cards, student loan offices, banks and retailers. Hang up and contact your bank, credit card company or loan office directly to see if they actually need something.
- CHECK FOR CHARGES: If you fear you’ve let something slip to a scammer, check your banking, credit card, phone and cable statements for unfamiliar charges. Call the billing company and dispute anything that you didn’t knowingly authorize. Demand proof if they claim you were recorded approving the charge. And you can also contact the Federal Trade Commission to dispute charges.
- SEE WHAT YOUR PROVIDER PROVIDES: Look into what spam and robocall controls your phone carrier provides to block unwanted and anonymous calls, like AT&T’s Call Protect, or T-Mobile’s Scam ID and Scam Block. “Most of these are free, so check your phone company’s website to see what’s available,” said Grant.
- THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT: If you don’t have a Pixel phone or use the Google Assistant, robocall-blocking apps are also popping up. Hiya, free for iOS and Android, flags potential scam calls, adds context to where unknown numbers might be to coming from and lets you report scam numbers in the app. Nomorobo for $1.99 a month on iOS works similarly to Hiya. Truecaller is a free iOS and Android app that alerts you to fraudulent calls before you pick up. And the free Should I Answer? app for Android crowdsources nuisance numbers, so users can warn each other about the worst unwanted call offenders. Plus, Pixel phone users can let their Google Assistant screen calls for them. The new feature (built into the Pixel 3, and now available for the Pixel 1 and 2) prompts you to tap “Screen call” when you get an incoming call from an unknown number. What’s more, the A.I. assistant will answer the call for you and send a transcript in real-time, so that you can decide whether to pick up or block it as spam.
And check out the FCC’s web resources for blocking robocalls.