How to spot phone and text scams: 2021 edition
We may be moving into the holiday break soon, but you know who never take a break? Scammers. In fact, the holiday season is like hunting season for scammers, targeting people with "lonely-hearts" romance scams, Medicare scams, holiday shopping scams, and dozens more. So get yourself educated, and be on the lookout for these common groups of scams (courtesy of the FTC):
Conceptually the romance scam is a simple one: the scammer sets up a fake profile on a dating site or on a social network, and then engages in an online relationship with the victim, talking and texting often to gain the victim's trust. Then they make up a story and ask the victim for money. They usually will have a cover story about why they can't meet in person (they're in the military, or work on an oil rig for example.) After the scammer convinces the victim they're a real person (and a potential romantic partner), they'll say they need money to buy a plane ticket to meet the victim, or they need money to pay for a visa or for some other made-up reason. They'll insist that the victim wire transfer the money (or send it through PayPal, or other online services that can't be tracked.) A variant is to ask the victim for gift cards from Amazon or iTunes, because like a wire transfer, the money can't be traced.
Similar to romance scams, imposter scams rely on the scammer credibly pretending to be from a government agency or a a business. A super common one is the scammer calling you pretending to be from the IRS, claiming you owe back taxes. This one is so prevalent the FTC made an infographic about it:
The first thing you should know is that no government agency will ever contact you like this, and no government agency will ever ask you to wire money under any circumstance. If you get one of these calls, call the agency the scammer is pretending to be from to verify it's a scam.
Holiday phishing scams
A "phishing" scam is when the scammer's intent is to get you to give out personal information. While phishing scams happen all year round, they get especially pernicious during the holidays. A phishing scam will send you an email or text message offering an item either for free or for a suspiciously low price. When you click on the link you're sent to a phony website that asks you to fill in your personal information (credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc.) in order to receive the item. Not only will you not get the item they were promising, but the scammers now have your important personal info. You can read more about phishing scams with our article on mobile safety tips.
In spoofing scams, the scammer will call or text from a legitimate sounding number. Spoofing scams, like phishing scams, happen all year round, but during the holidays, the spoofer will often try to appear as if they're contacting you from a real charity. Often the spoofers will text you a link to donate money that, like the phishing scam, leads to a phony website where you can "donate" your money.
What to look out for:
In all of these cases, it's good to remember some basic guidelines to help you spot the scammers:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- No government agency will ever contact you by phone or text message.
- If someone asks you to wire them money or gift cards, it's almost certainly a scam.
- Don't ever click on a link texted to you from an unknown source. Ever.
- Never give out your banking information or social security number.
And don't forget, for extra security, you can always use TextNow as your secondary number!