Within days of filing my taxes this year, I started getting suspicious phone calls. Apparently, the IRS was suing me and I had to pay a “settlement” amount, or I would be hearing from lawyers pursuing a much greater amount of money.
Fortunately for me, my husband works in the financial industry and knows how the IRS works — they always send a letter first. Since I knew from the outset that the call was a scam, it was actually kind of funny to be on the receiving end of one of these calls that I’d heard so much about.
But for many, many people — up to one in 10 in the general population, and one in five in the over-65 demographic — these calls aren’t funny at all. They are terrifying, and people will spend whatever they have to in order to keep the supposed IRS off their backs. And this IRS scam isn’t the only one!! In fact, there are several common phone scams that take financial advantage of people who simply don’t know any better.
Wondering how to spot one of these scams, both in the calls you get and in the lives of those you care about? Here are some ideas.
Government Agencies Won’t Call You Out of The Blue
Most government agencies will contact you first by mail, even if they think you owe them quite a bit of money. So if someone calls and claims to be from the IRS, FBI, local law enforcement, jury duty enforcement, or any other government agency, you can be pretty sure that they are scamming you. This is especially true if they are asking you for money, for you Social Security Number, or anything else like that.
If you’re unsure as to the legitimacy of the call, tell the scammer that you are driving and cannot pay right now, but you’d like to call back as soon as you’ve stopped. Get as much information as you can, like the name and the official title of the person calling you, and the name of the department they claim to be representing. Then, when you’re off the line, do some research. Find a phone number or email address for the department and call them directly. Explain the call you received and that you aren’t sure it was legitimate, and let them help you figure it out.
These calls can be especially harmful to people who feel vulnerable or afraid, like many elderly people, people living alone, etc. If you know or love someone in one of these categories, make sure they know that these calls can be fake. Offer to back them up if they ever need it, and remind them that they have rights, too.
Cold Calls From Charities
Did you ever get a call out of nowhere from a charity, cause, or campaign asking for an immediate donation? These can be among the most confusing calls to receive, because some non-profits use this as a legitimate marketing technique.
If you aren’t sure that the call is legit but you’re interested in a cause, explain that you are uncomfortable giving out financial information over the phone. Get the exact name of the organization and Google it. See if you can find any reviews of the organization. Then, donate online or call the number provided on the website to make your donation.
Also, don’t share personal information, like your Social Security Number, over the phone. It is perfectly acceptable to simply say that you don’t give out that data that way. If they pressure you, they either aren’t legitimate or they might not be an organization you’d want to donate to anyway.