Your phone rings, and you don't recognize the number. You consider not answering, but what if your child has lost their phone, or your mom is in the hospital? And for military families, there are always other worries. So you answer, and then it starts. "This is the vehicle warranty department calling about your vehicle's extended warranty."
Ugh. These scam phone calls are so annoying. And they're financially dangerous. Americans have lost an estimated $30 billion in phone scams in the last 12 months, according to Truecaller. That's billion, with a b.
Obviously, the easiest thing you can do is not to answer those calls. But since we don't always know when it's a scammer, there are some other steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Don't provide your full name on your voicemail message. This can give scammers more information than they already have. If they get through to you on the phone, don't provide any information.
- Don't give information to people who call you unless you can verify their identity and need to know. Hang up, look for the company's telephone number online and call back. Legitimate attempts to get a payment should not ask for your personal information. Don't call a phone number that they give you, or use the number shown on your caller ID.
- Don't make a payment based solely on information from a phone call made to you. Even if you know that you owe money to someone, verify that information through an online account, by calling the company directly using a published phone number or using regular mail.
- Don't make payments through gift cards -- ever. Wire transfers should be used online for very specific, pre-planned transactions between known parties, such as the title company or escrow service when you buy a house. Legitimate payments should be made through traceable options, like electronic funds transfers or paper checks.
- Resist any pressure to take action immediately. Genuine contacts will wait another day while you verify their information. Don't be swayed by scare tactics that threaten to block your benefits or take action against you. Even if a problem or offer sounds legitimate, sleep on it for at least 24 hours before doing anything.
- Check with your wireless carrier to see what their spam protection service does and how much it costs. Consider whether that cost fits in your budget and whether it is a valuable service for you. If you have older parents who may be more susceptible to scams, consider adding spam protection service to their phone lines.
- Consider a spam blocker app. There is usually a monthly cost, but again, consider whether it fits in your budget and whether it is a service that will provide value for you.
It's easy to be tricked by some of the sophisticated methods used by scammers. They're smart. But with a few simple rules, you can protect yourself from being harmed by people who want to separate you from your money.
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