It’s almost dinner time, and the phone rings. You check the caller ID – it’s a New Jersey number. You don’t recognize the number, but you pick it up anyway. “Hello,” a female voice says on the other end of the line in halting English. “I am calling for the United States government. There is $12,500 here for you. Do you want it?” You look at the caller ID again, sigh, and hang up the phone.
That’s right, it’s a scam. In fact, these brave new phone thieves have called my house twice in the last week. The second time they called, we decided to press them a little bit for more information, just to try and uncover their game. As soon as we expressed interest in obtaining the money “that had been set aside just because we are good Americans who pay their taxes on time,” the voice on the other end of the line started asking for the routing information for our checking account. That’s when we hung up for the second time.
If you get this call, don’t fall for it. The thieves at the other end of the line are most likely going to use your checking account information to withdraw money from your account, not deposit federal funds.
After the second phone call, I decided to place a call to my local FBI office just to confirm my suspicions that this was in fact fraud. Part of me wanted to believe that the federal government really was trying to track me down and give me money. Hope springs eternal, but my hopes were dashed in the mere thirty seconds it took to get an FBI agent on the line.
“Beseiged.” That’s what the FBI agent said. They are currently “besieged” with calls about this scam. And yes, it is a scam. The federal government is not randomly calling taxpayers and offering them big money simply for being good citizens.
Here are three easy tips about how to avoid being scammed over the phone:
1. Establish a house rule about phone solicitations. In our house, the rule is “NO”. We don’t engage in any sort of financial agreement of any kind with anyone who contacts us by phone. This includes charities.
2. Teach everyone in your family about this rule, and practice hanging up the phone on solicitors. Kids and adults are often hesitant to do this, since it is impolite under normal circumstances. Tell your children that under no circumstances should they ever divulge any personal information over the phone without your knowledge.
3. Alert the FBI to phone calls that seem to be fraudulent. The easiest way to do this is over the internet. The FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center maintain a web site for reporting phone fraud at www.ic3.gov. It’s very easy to use.
Don’t get taken in by these guys. Remember the adage about things that seem too good to be true. They probably are.