Phone scams are as common as ever. Scammers just keep calling, hoping you will give them sensitive financial information. One of the most common scams is the IRS scam: The person on the line says they’re with the IRS and claims that you owe money. If you don’t pay, they warn, you will be arrested. Owing money and being arrested is a scary thought, but it’s a lie. Scammers rely on fear tactics to get their victims to pay up.
Of course, this is just one example. Scammers use all kinds of lies to trick people, but the goal is the same every time: they want money. Sometimes they will demand a wire transfer or ask for an Apple iTunes gift card, a Google Play Store gift card, or another similar gift card.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that consumers lost over $488 million to scammers in 2018. Unfortunately, that means the scammers’ tactics do work. The FTC also says that people aged 60–69 are among those who lost the most money to phone scams, to the tune of $184 million. Those aged 50–59 ranked second with a loss of $168 million.
If you are ever called by someone asking for or demanding money, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
4 Tips to deal with phone scammers
1. If someone calls claiming to be with the IRS, hang up immediately. Don’t waste your time. The IRS will never call you. Should the IRS legitimately need to contact you, they will send you a certified letter.
2. If you get a call from someone claiming to be with a government agency such as the Social Security Administration and they ask for your Social Security number or other sensitive information, hang up. The SSA will never cold-call you. They will reach out via mail first like the IRS.
3. If, at any time, you are asked to send money via wire transfer or a gift card, the caller is a scammer. No legitimate government agency or a business will call you out of the blue asking for money. Scammers love gift cards because they are largely untraceable and, once they have the money, there is almost no way to get it back.
4. Lastly, stay rational over the phone. The scare tactics used by scammers can be effective, and scammers prey on this fact. Should the person on the phone use scare tactics on you (such as threats of an arrest or lawsuit), simply hang up.