Avoiding Phone Scams
We are reposting this message from Senator Matt Smith—we thought it was useful and hope you do, too!
Do Not Call List: Step 1 to Avoid Phone Scams
Recently, I’ve heard from a number of constituents who are receiving unwanted telephone calls from telemarketers and others asking for personal information or claiming to be representatives of government agencies or businesses. As part of my ongoing efforts to provide constituents with the necessary tools and information to combat identity theft and fraud schemes, below you will find information about how scammers may obtain your personal information, and ways you can protect yourself. If you are receiving these kinds of calls, the first step you should take is to make sure you are signed up for both the federal and Pennsylvania Do Not Call lists. These lists are maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and bar telemarketers from calling the numbers registered on the list.
- You can sign up for the federal Do Not Call list by visiting www.DoNotCall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
- To register your number on the Pennsylvania Do Not Call list, you can visit this link or call 1-888-777-3406.
If you continue to receive calls after enrolling, you should inform the caller that you are registered on the Do Not Call lists and report to the FTC and Attorney General’s office that you received a call.
- You can register a complaint with the FTC by visiting this link or by calling 1-888-225-5322
- Complaints with the Attorney General’s office can be filed here or by calling 1-800-441-2555
While signing up for these lists should cut down on the number of unwanted calls you receive, they only apply to legitimate, registered telemarketing businesses and will not prevent scammers or would-be identity thieves from calling you.
Recent Scams and Ways to Protect Yourself
According to constituents who have contacted my offices and reports from the Attorney General’s office, individuals are calling homes claiming to be from credit card companies, utility providers, or government agencies such as the IRS or the Attorney General.
It can be difficult to figure out if a call is legitimate given the sophistication of some of these schemes. However, here are some trademark signs to look out for:
- Many scammers rely on pressuring you to act, telling you that there is an emergency or a problem with an account. The caller might claim that there is an issue with your taxes, credit card or utility bills and that you must pay immediately to avoid penalties or service shutoffs.
- The caller says you’ve won a prize, were specially selected, or won money in a foreign lottery, but to collect you must send money, provide a credit card or bank account number, or mail a check. They may even ask for your social security number to verify your identity.
- Some scammers pretend to be law enforcement or lawyers. They may claim that there is a warrant for your arrest, that you have an outstanding ticket, or that a relative needs bail money.
It is important to note that first contact with the IRS, Attorney General’s office, or your utility providers will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. Likewise, the IRS and Attorney General will never ask for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
Many of these schemes are complicated and may seem legitimate. However, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim.
What You Can Do:
- If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, don’t answer it and if you do, don’t press 1 or any other numbers. Many scammers illegally use robocall devices to call thousands of random numbers. If a person answers the call, they know the number works and will likely continue to call.
- Find out if your telephone provider permits you to block phone numbers. Many providers offer this as a free service. Blocking numbers you know are illegitimate can cut down on the number of unwanted calls received.
- Never give out your personal information such as billing information, social security numbers, bank account and credit card numbers over the phone. Especially if you receive an unsolicited telephone call.
- Never wire money or purchase prepaid cash cards in response to a telephone call, whether it is from a stranger or someone who claims to know you.
- Do not overreact. If someone calls you asking for money for a friend or relative, verify everything and don’t let anyone rush you.
- If the caller is claiming to be law enforcement, ask for their name and badge number then hang up and call the agency they claim to be from to verify that they are telling the truth.
- If you have not received written notice from the IRS, Attorney General’s office, or your utility company about unpaid taxes, penalties, or service shut offs, then the call is likely illegitimate.
- Never forget that you are in control. You can always hang up and call the advertised public number for any business or agency to verify that you received a genuine call.
It can be easy to fall prey to such schemes given their complexity. It is important to act immediately if you think you have been targeted.
Steps to Take If You May Be a Victim of Fraud or a Scam
- Immediately notify local law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office, FBI, and the Federal Trade Commission.
- Notify your bank or credit card company that your accounts may be compromised.
- Stop payment on any checks you may have written or freeze your credit and debit cards.
- Contact the three major credit reporting companies and put a fraud alert on your account
- Experian, 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289
Please contact my office if you need any help or have any questions. My staff and I are available to assist you and connect you to existing resources. All of my offices have sample dispute letters for fraudulent charges on bank accounts or credit cards along with brochures about how to avoid fraud and identify theft.
I will be sure to provide updates on any new schemes as information becomes available. I will also continue to host informational seminars with the Attorney General’s office to help arm residents with the tools required to protect against identity theft and fraud along with free secure paper shredding events to help keep sensitive documents out of the hands of would-be identity thieves.
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