Phone and Email Scams are on the Rise
Last August, the Florida Supreme Court issued a warning to Florida residents to be on the alert for telephone and email scams. One scam the Court warned of involved scammers trying to trick health care workers. Another scam targeted Spanish speakers in South Florida. Sadly, those are not isolated crimes. The Florida Division of Consumer Services (DCS) has compiled a long and growing list of frauds and scams targeting Floridians of every age, race, and background. So has the Federal Trade Commission.
Scammers typically make initial contact with their victims by phone or email. As the DCS list makes clear, they use a dizzying array of tactics to set the hook. Most scams, however, try to succeed by tapping into the victim’s emotions, particularly about money issues. For example, scammers may use fear to make a veteran believe he is about to lose his benefit checks. They may stoke happiness by convincing a single mother that she has won the lottery. They may even trigger a victim’s insecurities about appearing unintelligent by using complicated, “smart”-sounding language to describe an investment scam.
Of course, not every third-party call or email you receive is a scam. There are plenty of legitimate reasons someone you don’t know might call or email you. The important thing is to learn to separate the safe from the shady.
Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your loved ones against phone and email scams, and what to do if you suspect you’ve fallen victim to one.
Protecting Against Phone Scams
It would be nice if you could simply “hide” your phone number from scammers. Unfortunately, that probably isn’t possible. Chances are your phone number is already publicly available or part of a marketer’s call list, especially if you’ve ever used it to sign up for an online service. Even if you’ve been very careful not to share your number, today’s computerized, automated phone dialers, which can dial thousands of numbers in a single area code per hour, will eventually call dial it.
Which is not to say that there’s nothing you can do to stop phone scammers from contacting you, or from ripping you off. You can:
- Put your number on the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry. This might not stop scammers from calling you, but it does give the federal government a financial weapon to use against them: Violators of the Do Not Call Registry face fines of $41,484 per call.
- Let unknown callers go to voicemail. Many scammers will avoid leaving a message. They want a live target they can pressure. If an unknown caller does leave a message, you can decide whether it sounds legitimate without being put on the spot.
- Independently verify the callback number. A lot of scams exaggerate the urgency of the call. Their messages will tell you to call back immediately, and your phone probably has a button right on the screen to let you do that. But don’t be hasty. If a scammer leaves a callback number, verify that it’s real before dialing. You can type the number into any online search engine to see if it’s who the caller says it is, or not.
- Do not say “Yes,” “No,” or other keywords an unknown caller explicitly or implicitly asks you to say. Some new phone scams attempt to get you to say these words and then use them to try and steal your identity or to create a false recording of you agreeing to something you never agreed to. If you answer an unknown call and the person on the other end asks “Is this John Smith?” don’t say “Yes” or “No,” say “Who’s calling?” Keep asking questions until you’re sure the call is legitimate, or that it isn’t. Scammers will tend to hang up long before then anyway.
Protecting Against Email Scams
One glance at your email’s junk mailbox will tell you everything you need to know about how popular email scams are with scammers. Bots and automated programs can churn out scam after scam to a long mailing list. And, while your email server probably does a pretty good job of separating spam from real mail, scammers are always trying to up their game. Here are some steps you can take to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
Never, ever, click on a link in email, or open a document attached to it, unless you are absolutely, positively sure it is genuine. When it comes to emails in your junk mailbox, it’s probably safest not to click on any link or open an attached document at all. The goal of most email scams is to get you to navigate to a web page that tricks you into disclosing your personal information, or to open a file that automatically installs malware on your computer.
Security Applications Minimize Email Scam Risk
Keep your security applications up to date. Anti-virus software blocks a variety of viruses, malware, and attempts to infiltrate your network. Software makers can update your application to counter new threats. The best solutions these days even have the ability to detect malware and other threats in emails. Like any layer of protection, anti-virus software is not perfect. But the more layers of defense against scams you have, the better.
Know the warning signs of a “phishing” scam. Phishing scams involve sending you an email that looks like it comes from a real (usually finance-related) source and is meant for you. These emails usually encourage you to respond to some urgent deadline, such as by claiming your credit card needs authentication for an abnormal purchase, or that your bank account will freeze if you don’t respond within 24 hours. The goal is to trick you into disclosing financial account information that can be used to steal your identity.
Legitimate businesses rarely demand immediate attention. They almost never request by email that you send them account information or important verifying information like social security numbers or your mother’s maiden name. If you receive a “phishy” looking email that looks like it’s from a company you actually do business with, go to their website, call the customer service number you find there, and ask if the email you received is legitimate.
Use two-factor authentication. Whenever your bank, insurance company, or anyone else you do business with offers two-factor authentication (TFA), use it. TFA systems text you a one-time key code to use when logging in to your account, ensuring that even if someone steals your passwords, they will also need to be holding your phone, too, before they can access your information.
Report Scams to Help Stop Them From Harming Others
You can also double check the authenticity of a site company or program through the internet’s various news sources and web security sites that archive scams as they are reported by their consumers. It is important to report any scams you may have fallen victim to yourself. You don’t want to let the people responsible for the scam to go ahead and get away with scamming someone else. The chances of catching them increase the sooner someone reports the scam.
What to Do if You Fall for a Scam
Identifying something as a scam before it harms you is always preferable. But if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, quick action is important.
Run a virus scan. This may happen automatically if you keep your software up-to-date.
Use protective software. A variety of different software developed specifically to protect users from spyware, malware, and trojan viruses are available for free online from several reputable distributors that may not include bonus paid for services but can minimize your risk of scam.
Change your passwords. Once your sure your computer or tablet is malware-free, change important passwords.
Secure your financial information and data. Alert the bank, credit card issuer, or other company where you hold any account you believe might be affected by the scam. They can take steps on their end to prevent malicious access to your account.
Report the scam. At the links above to the lists of known scams maintained by the Florida DCS and the FTC, you can find information for how to report a scam, which will help keep others safe and may bring your scammer to justice.
Scammed? We May Be Able to Help.
Scams can cause the victim serious financial pain and inconvenience. Once a malicious actor has obtained your personal details or any account information, they may steal your identity or make purchases through your accounts. An attorney with experience representing the victims of phone and email scams can help you minimize the risk of future loss, respond to identified malicious actors, and resolve any life disruptions that the scam caused. Contact the Dolman Law Group here or call us at (727) 853-6275 to learn more about your options.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652