April 25, 2019

The Telephone: Not What It Used to Be

Seniors are the target of multiple scams today and the telephone seems to be the preferred method of delivery.  However, everyone should be aware that the telephone is not what it used to be and can be manipulated very easily. You get a call; the caller ID shows the name of the Internal Revenue Service; your first reaction is to answer the call as why would the Internal Revenue Service call you? It must be important! First, the Internal Revenue Service will not call you, and secondly their initial method of contact is via mail but many of us panic and answer the call.  

The telephone is used more often than mailing scams because the caller can be located overseas. The caller ID can be changed to make it appear that it is a call from a person or agency that one might want to talk to. There are some very simple rules that should be posted near our telephones: (1) never answer a call if you do not recognize the caller; (2) never answer a call from a non-recognizable number that appears to be from a relative, spouse, or child. Let the call go through and use the number that you have on file for your wife, husband, to return the call using the number that you have on file; and (3) never return the call from the caller, even if you are instructed to by the caller. I can’t tell you how many times “legal action” has being taken against me by callers from the wonderful State of Texas.

Hopefully, someone will eventually take action to stop the “robo-callers” but until then, the public has to put up with literally hundreds of thousands of incoming calls that are unwanted and appear to never stop coming. If there is a pause after you say hello, hang up. What the robo-calling machine is doing is “setting up” the call based upon a voice response.

Never complete any sort of “survey” over the telephone regardless of whom or why the call is being made. Survey questionnaires that are part of a scam have as a goal to work in questions that you would not normally answer and are designed as part of an identity theft scheme.

Never give out any personal information over the phone at any time. If the information is necessary, ask the caller to mail you their request. If you won a trip, which is usually a dead give-away that information is being requested from you, ask that their informational request be sent to you. If the caller hedges or states that he or she needs it now, hang up. One scam is to ask for a “port deposit” usually in the range of $90.00, as the caller wants your credit card information to pay for this fee as part of your “free trip.”

It is a shame that the telephone is now being used more often than any other method to generate scams and that senior citizens are the target of these scams. Some of the scams that I can personally attest to have been: reunions from a high school or college sorority, college fraternity, or the infamous charity scams. Any time that you are talking to someone over the telephone that you have never met or do not recognize, be aware. One charity calls and does a long explanation that they are working on behalf of the American Cancer Society or some other good organization and really only want a small donation. You think or are sold that the call is legit, but the rub comes in that the small donation of $25.00 is being requested to be paid with your credit card. The call is part of an identity theft scam and their purpose is to get your credit card number.

I would caution everyone today, to be cautious about answering your cell phone or land line. If you have voicemail, you can listen to the message and make a determination if you really want to respond. At best, be very cautious as your telephone can be used to help you or be used to defraud you.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer