Here are some helpful tips for avoiding scams this holiday season.
Spam calls are an annoying reality of life for most of us, but thanks to new technology and savvier criminals, they can also pose a real threat, especially during the holidays.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of unwanted spam calls this year, you’re not alone. According to Consumer Reports, 5 billion robocalls were made in October alone. It's expected that the number of spam calls in 2018 may total 50 billion by the end of the year, an increase from last year's number of 20 billion.
Despite lawmakers’ best effort, these spam calls – and other scam devices – seem to work. It’s estimated that scammers generated $905 million by making fraudulent calls to unsuspecting victims, and that number only rises during the holiday months.
There are a few reasons for this. Many people chose to shop online during the Christmas season to avoid the long lines and bustle of in-store shopping. Shopping online means there’s a greater risk of exposing your credit card info to nefarious sites. Even if you avoid sketchy websites, entering your information into the endless contests that pop up over the holiday season – gift card auctions and getaways that flood your inbox – can give scammers that much-needed “in.”
Once a scammer gets a hold of your information – usually a telephone number is all they need – they’ll then flood your phone with calls, pretending to represent a variety of organizations in order to glean even more personal information from you.
The good news? There are plenty of ways to defend yourself from these attacks, both by phone and online. Here are some helpful tips for avoiding scams this holiday season.
Silence Is The Answer
Most people are cautioned to just let calls they suspect may be from spammers to go to voicemail, a perfectly good thing to do. The only downside is that letting a call go to your voicemail alerts the scammers that yours is a working number, which means they will almost certainly continue to call. A better option? Answer with silence. When you say “hello,” a bot usually transfers you to a call center or an automated service. By staying quiet for a few seconds, the bot automatically hangs up and there’s less of a chance you’ll get a callback. If it’s a live telemarketer, waiting for the person to speak first is also a good rule of thumb, that way, if you don’t recognize the voice, you can just hang up.
Take Advantage Of Your “Smart” Phone
There are plenty of apps that can block unwanted calls for you if you have a capable smartphone. Some are free, others cost a few dollars, but the peace of mind is probably worth it in the long run. Check with your carrier too. If you’re an AT&T customer, the network provides “Call Protect” while Verizon subscribers have access to “Caller Name ID” and Sprint offers its users “Scam ID” and “Scam Block.”
Spot the Scam
You’re probably familiar with the more common spam calls. These are ones from senders who offer to reduce or eliminate your debt, claim you’ve won a free vacation or some other type of prize, or appear to be from a government agency like the IRS. Any call asking for personal information on the phone should be a red flag. Government agencies like the IRS will never ask for that kind of thing over the phone. If you’re not sure, hang up the call and call the agency back yourself, using a verified number that you can easily find online.
The same goes for scams that come through your inbox. Any “contest” or “prize” that requires strangely intimate information, like social security numbers, bank account info, or even something as seemingly innocent as vehicle registration info is probably a scam.
Avoid confirming account information – some scammers already have your billing info when they call. They want you to confirm so they can charge you. Even answering seemingly benign “yes” or “no” questions can be dangerous. Some scams record your voice and use it to confirm charges made on your behalf.
The Federal Trade Commission has a great list of tips for protecting yourself, as well as a list of scams currently being employed by criminals. Check it regularly or anytime you suspect you may be a target.
Stay Safe Online
The internet has made it easier than ever for scammers to target unsuspecting shoppers. That doesn’t mean you need to swear off making purchases online, but it does mean you should be careful of how much and what kind of information you share online. Even something as benign as giving out your phone number to a site you’re not familiar with in order to cash in on a coupon can set you up as a target. A good rule of thumb is to only frequent sites you trust, surf the web with a secure connection, never make a purchase using a public Wi-Fi network – like the one you’d log into at Starbucks – and avoid clicking on links from social media sites like Facebook. It can be tempting, especially when you see something shared by a friend or connection, but scammers love to take advantage of the familiarity of Facebook to steal your information.