How To Avoid Being Scammed By An Unfamiliar Caller

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being stolen from Americans.

The United States Justice Department says it has broken up a massive telephone fraud operation that stole hundreds of millions of dollars from more than 15,000 Americans. 

On Friday, the Justice Department said it broke up "what appeared to be the nation's first large-scale, multinational telephone fraud operation," according to The New York Times. Callers pretended to be International Revenue Service (IRS) or immigration agents and threatened vulnerable Americans with fines or jail time if they didn't pay off debt immediately, over the phone. Thousands of Americans fell for the scam by turning over credit card or personal information.


"The stiff sentences imposed this week represent the culmination of the first-ever large scale, multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.  "This case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimization of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public."  

More than 21 members of the India-based scheme were sentenced, some up to 20 years. But the threat has not disappeared. 

Unfortunately, telephone frauds like the I.R.S. scam are still very common. Anyone with a cell phone or a landline has probably gotten robocalls before that sound as if the government is going to give you money, that you've won a free trip to a beautiful island, or that you qualified for a certain kind of health care coverage. Other times, those calls are actual people doing their best to extract personal information from you.

According to Consumer Reports, there are four common phone scams: 

The IRS scam, where scammers threaten to arrest you or take legal action if you don't pay off a heavy fine over the phone. Often times they will resolve it by having you tell them your social security number. Scammers have the ability to change their caller identification and make it look like they are ringing you from a government building. 

Then there's the jury duty scam, where a U.S. Marshal warns you that you'll be arrested for missing jury duty unless you provide your Social Security number or credit card number. In the Microsoft scam, someone calling from a tech support company says that your computer has a virus or a serious piece of malware, eventually asking you to log into a service that allows them to take control of your computer, at which time they'll extract your personal info. Finally, in the government grants scam — one I've received several times — you're told you have qualified for a "free grant" to help you cover college debt, mortgages or health care. During this scam, the caller will ask you to pay a processing fee before disconnecting from the line.

So, how do you make sure you don't get scammed?

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 2017: The Internal Revenue Service - IRS - headquarters in building and sign American flag above on Constitution Ave. Signage is new in 2017. Washington DC. bakdc / Shutterstock

According to the IRS, there are a few things to know. First of all, the IRS will never call you without first sending notices in the mail, and they will never send unsolicited emails, texts or social media communications to discuss tax issues. Secondly, there are a few simple steps to report scams:

First, hang up the phone immediately without giving any information.

Second, if you owe the IRS taxes, you can call them at 800-829-1040 to find out. You can even go to to check your status. 

Third, if you're targeted in the IRS scam, which has been the most popular in the United States, you should call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or report the incident online.

Fourth, if you receive one of the other phone scams, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or call 877-382-4357. The FTC keeps schemes like this in an online database for civil and criminal law enforcement agencies. 

And finally, there is one surefire way to avoid being scammed on the phone: don't answer the phone if you don't recognize the number.

Cover photo: Shutterstock /  9nong


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