We all know about them and we have all received them. They are annoying, a nuisance and a waste of our time. Scam calls, whether by a live person, a robocall or a text, are an invasion of our privacy and, in many cases, illegal. For those of us who have fallen victim or almost fallen victim to these calls, they can be traumatic, and can cause financial loss and embarrassment, leaving us feeling violated and playing havoc with our lives.
Scammers are always looking for new approaches and for new victims. And while scammers use many different scenarios, there are some scams more common than others that are currently making the rounds. These scams include threatening calls from the IRS, technical support calls concerning issues with your computer, fake charity appeals, lottery scams, family members in danger or needing money, insurance, health care, debt scams and website password request scams. There are also foreign money exchange scams, bogus debt scams and counterfeit cashier check scams.
There is another scam that has been bombarding consumers recently, about which people may not be as aware. These scams capitalize on people’s trust in a brand or in a company with which they already do business. One of the most prevalent scams of this kind involves impersonators claiming to represent the retailer Amazon. The Federal Trade Commission reports that from July 2020 through June 2021, about one in three people who reported a business impersonator to the FTC said the scammer claimed to be calling from Amazon. Scammers claim that your account has been misused and try to get your cash and sensitive data. This year, Amazon scams originating from robocalls, texts and emails have been among the top five complaints to AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline.
Has “Amazon” contacted you to confirm a recent purchase you did not make or to tell you that your account has been hacked? Often, the unauthorized charge is in the amount of $1,499. Have you been asked to buy gift cards and share the gift card number and pin as a way to protect your account that has been hacked? Have you been offered a “refund” for an unauthorized purchase but “accidentally” had the transfer be more than promised? There are subtle variations of these main scams, but beware, they are all scams that imposters use to get your personal and financial information.
One of our readers, Frumie Ganz, wrote to The Jewish Link, asking for help after becoming a victim of an Amazon imposter scam. Frumie wrote, “Please help me get my money back. Getting scammed is traumatizing on so many levels. When this happened to me I could not move for days. I didn’t want to work or do anything. It felt pointless to me. I saved all this money for my daughter’s wedding … Jan 9 and my money is gone. It’s even more that I feel violated, and embarrassed.”
Ganz’s scam started when she received a phone call that she really believed was from Amazon. She was told that someone had made a purchase of a cell phone for $1,000 on her account. She was told that “Amazon” would refund her money. They already knew her three credit card numbers on her Amazon account. Ganz was then told that she would receive her refund via Zelle and that to do this, she needed to download an app called AnyDesk. Ganz did so and sent a request to receive her money. However, after she downloaded the app, it did not work and Frumie thought that her Zelle was down. She tried to send a request to receive money from all three of her bank accounts. However, after the scam was completed, she saw that she had received alerts from the banks.
“I never responded to those alerts; the hackers answered my text messages accepting these charges. Of course the second I realized I ran to all my banks. I tried to tell the banks that I did not approve these transactions. They don’t want to give me my money back. Needless to say I feel horrible and violated. I lost thousands of dollars. One of the establishments, which is Santander bank, I [have been] banking with [for] over a decade. They know this is not my normal activity. I put in a claim on all my accounts the same day. I went to the police the same day. Closed all my accounts. The three banks are Santander, Wells Fargo, Chase. As of now Wells Fargo is the only bank that gave me a temporary refund [to] my account. Santander denied my claim. Chase has denied my claim,” Ganz wrote to The Jewish Link.
Moshe Kinderlehrer, founder and co-publisher of The Jewish Link, also had a recent experience with scammers. He received a phone call purportedly from his mortgage company, Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc (SPS), saying that he was eligible for a loan modification of $1,000 monthly off his loan. They promised to send the necessary paperwork. They had his account information and payment information. The tipoff for Kinderlehrer was that he detected that the speaker had a foreign accent yet said that his name was Brian. Kinderlehrer also asked for formal documentation of the modification but nothing ever came.
When Kinderlehrer called SPS they were unconcerned. SPS’s advice was to just hang up, but never answered the question of how the scammers could get all of his information from them in the first place. Kinderlehrer now feels that SPS was callous in their response and that they simply didn’t care or felt they could do nothing to stop the activity.
These scams leave all of us feeling insignificant to the companies with which we do business. And often, there is little that can be done once scammers have our money. The following are some tips that may help you avoid falling victim to a scam.
Never call back an unknown number. Use the information on the company’s website or on invoices that you already have and call the company directly. Never respond to a number or link listed in an unexpected email or text. Never go to a redirected site that the caller is asking you to go to or download apps that they direct you to download. Do not push any numbers on your phone if asked to do so. You will not be connected to a real representative of the company.
Do not pay for anything with a gift card. If anyone asks you to pay with a gift card or to buy gift cards for anything, it is a scam.
Do not give remote access to your computer to someone who contacts you unexpectedly. Doing this allows the scammer to gain access to your personal and financial information. Change passwords immediately.
If you receive a call or text asking for personal information of any kind, hang up. Check with the real institution to see if indeed there is an issue.
Consider call blocking or call labeling.
Do not trust your caller ID. Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID. This is called spoofing.
The best thing to do is hang up. Do not share any information with the caller.
Report telephone scams online to the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftc.gov/contact.
Report all robocalls and unwanted telemarketing calls to the Do Not Call Registry. The Federal government’s National Do Not Call Registry is a free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home. To register your phone number or to get information about the registry, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register. You will get fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number.
Report caller ID spoofing to the Federal Communications Commission at https://www.fcc.gov or call 1-888-225-5322.
To reach the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline, call 1-877-908-3360, M-F 7 a.m.-11 p.m. ET.
Please contact [email protected] with any thoughts or suggestions.
Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special, innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and about Israel. Susan has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.