Scams perpetrated over the phone could come through real humans, robocalls, or text messages aimed at motivating potential victims to release their money or personal information. Do not be deceived by these scams. California’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has raised awareness on how to detect common scams, spam emails, junk mails, and unsolicited offers. The office also hosts a Leave me Alone page where Californians can sign up to slow the flow of email spams, text spams, spam calls, junk faxes, junk mails, and telemarketing calls.
Common phone scams in California include:
- Phishing or brand spoofing scams, where fraudsters impersonate agencies and people the receiver trusts
- Credit card and loan scam, in which case the scammer offers predatory loans and credit card protections to potential victims
- Charitable scam, where the scammer requests for donations and gifts as a charity organization. This type of fraud is prevalent during pandemics and after natural disasters
- Business/investment scam, where the scammer proposes a mouth-watering business idea and solicits for investments
- Car warranty scam, where the scammer deceives victims into buying worthless car insurances at ridiculous prices
- Scams involving debt relief and credit repair, where the fraudster promises to reduce interest rates on credit cards and student loans
- Scams pertaining to travel or timeshare where scammers guarantee cheap vacations or offer fake timeshare resales
- Another common scam is free trial scams where fraudsters use free trials to bait subscribers, only to start billing them monthly until they cancel their subscriptions
- Prize and lottery fraud is a common tactic where the scammer tells possible victims to pay registration and shipping fees to be able to claim fake prizes
What are California Tech Support Scams?
Tech support scam is initiated when someone calls pretending to be a tech company representative and asking for remote access to your computer. A classic example of a tech support scam in California may involve scammers pretending to be from Microsoft or other big tech companies. These scammers can also claim that your computer will be overrun by a virus if you don't buy their software or give them remote access to fix the problem immediately. Some others may direct you to search for a particular file on your computer in a bid to trick you into buying worthless, fake, or harmful software. When contacted in this manner, the OAG recommends hanging up immediately and never giving up passwords and pin codes. Legitimate companies never require passwords over the phone or call to fix problems.
What are California Phishing Scams?
Phishing is a sophisticated scam tactic in which a scammer poses as a trusted brand and then demands critical financial details such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, and passwords. Calls, emails, and texts from phishers are official-looking which may end up convincing their victims to give up information about themselves. Many social-engineered phishing formats are emerging, and the OAG strongly advises against releasing personal information to callers over the phone.
What is a California Robocall Scam?
A robocall is a phone call directed at many people at once by an automated device that auto-dials and plays pre-recorded messages for selected phone numbers. Robocalls can come in the form of an appointment reminder, emergency information from the police department, or from telemarketers and political campaign organizations. As opportunists, scammers exploit robocalls significantly, and Californians receive the second-highest number of illegal robocalls in the nation.
In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill which promises to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls from scammers and unscrupulous telemarketers. Xavier Becerra, California’s Attorney General has been proactive as well. In coalition with other attorney generals, he collaborated with telecommunication companies to regulate and possibly prevent robocalls in the state.
Additionally, when receiving a call from an unknown number, reverse phone lookup sites may offer insight into who is calling you, and give you knowledge on whether said number is legitimate, or fraudulent.
What are California Emergency Scams?
Emergency scams are popular for targeting senior citizens in California. In this scam, an imposter calls with a falsified caller ID pretending to be a grandchild or relative in urgent need of financial help. Sometimes, the imposter even claims to be the arresting officer, lawyer, or doctor holding the family member until a wire transfer is made. While many other variations exist, they usually claim to need money to get out of jail, pay a hospital bill, or leave a foreign country.
Often, emergency scammers call back for more money to clear another legal fee they were not aware of. Do not be fooled by this type of scam even if the caller masks their voice or claims to have a different voice because of emotional stress. When contacted with family emergencies, ask questions, and avoid acting immediately. Also, hang up and call the relative’s regular phone number to find out if they are really in trouble. Many grandparents get tricked because they are uninformed and Californians are advised to call and educate them about the possibilities of emergency scams.
What are California IRS Scams?
As of November 2016, Californians have lost more than $10 million to scammers impersonating the Internal Revenue Service. These fraudulent individuals claim to be IRS employees and trick potential victims into sending them money to clear back taxes and avoid penalties. Following extensive public awareness raised by the IRS and state government, these scammers currently pretend to be credible by mailing bills before calling possible victims. They usually use spoofed or disguised caller ID numbers from Washington, D.C area codes. There are many variations of IRS or government scams in California with some impersonating the police and tax collectors. These scammers rely on fear as a tool in tricking victims into making multiple payments.
How Do I Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phone Scam?
- Take active precautions. Avoid answering calls from unknown numbers and if you must, ask questions and do not give out any personal information
- Hang up if you get an unsolicited phone call from someone or a robocall saying there's a problem with your social security number, credit card, and other financial accounts. To verify the caller’s authenticity, you can call back the financial organization using the phone number on your account statement, phone book, or on an official website.
- Register on the national do not call registry provided by the FCC. The registry limits telemarketers, robocalls, and many trusted organizations from calling the registered numbers. Although the registry cannot prevent scam calls, it offers a method of significantly reducing the frequency of unwanted calls. This registry can actively serve as a way of detecting scammers who claim to be calling from known telemarketing agencies already blocked from calling you.
- Research charity organizations soliciting donations before giving out money to make sure they are legitimate. Scammers usually impersonate known charitable agencies to trick their victims.
- Research unfamiliar contacts, potential business associates, opportunities, and contracts before investing money and resources in them.
- Do not give in to pressure when a call claims that a family member is in distress and needs financial support. Listen for familiar voices, and call other family members to confirm the information. Be aware that imposters often swear their victims to secrecy.
- Be on alert when called with international numbers and unfamiliar area codes. Be also wary of callers with foreign accents.
- Do not engage your scammers further if you think you have been scammed. They may eventually win you over and scam you a second time. Simply hang up and report them to your local law enforcement and the FTC.Keep abreast of current scam tactics from legitimate organizations such as OAG, FTC, and Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).