A reader asked me to weigh in on scam calls:

“Can you comment on calls on cell phones such as : Did not answer the phone but voice mail
left saying to click 1 to speak to a federal agent or you will be charged over $400 for a subscription that you know you never had if you don’t respond to the phone call.”

serious director talking on cellphone in cozy office
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Calls like these are the bane of many folks’ existence with some of us getting dozens of them a day. I got one today saying my Microsoft Windows was about to expire and I would be charged $600 to renew it if I didn’t call them immediately.

These calls are nothing more than classic phishing scams. Scams like this can arrive in your email inbox or via text or phone call. These scams normally fall into a few categories.

Government imposter scams – There’s a problem with your Social Security number. There’s a warrant for your arrest. The FBI has discovered child porn on your computer. The IRS needs information. Some government agency needs to talk to you immediately or you are going to be in BIG trouble.

Someone you love is in trouble – A friend or relative is under arrest and needs money for bail or a lawyer. A friend or relative is injured and needs money for medical treatment.

There’s an issue with an order or a subscription – The scammers say you’ve been charged for a product or a subscription renewal for a service. Maybe they say there’s a problem with the order. This can work on two levels, if you didn’t order the item mentioned, you want to stop the order. If you happen to have a subscription or an outstanding order, you’ll want to find out what’s wrong with it.

Tech support scammers – crooks claim there’s a problem with your computer or phone or with your account with Microsoft, Google, or Apple.

COVID Scams – crooks have jumped on the Coronavirus bandwagon and claim you need to call them to claim stimulus checks, check COVID test results, or register to get a vaccine.

All of these crooks count on activating your fear response. They want your heart beating so fast that you aren’t thinking straight. You’ll give them your information or buy them a gift card before you have time to think about it.

Here are some sure signs of a scam:

They call you with a problem. The government doesn’t handle warrants with robocalls. Tech support companies don’t call you. Amazon doesn’t call you with order issues. That’s just not how it works. There’s no way for Microsoft, Apple, Google, or anyone else to know if there’s an issue on your device. If your mechanic called and said they’d magically detected a problem with your car from back at the service station would you believe them?

They demand immediate payment, often through unusual means. No government agency will say you have to pay within 24 hours. If they want a wire transfer or a gift card, it is 100% a scam. ALWAYS.

The scam never really changes, just the method they use to contact you.