How you can protect yourself from phone scammers
Your telephone could be a lifeline in an emergency or a connection to friends and family, but it also could give the wrong person the access needed to cheat you out of your money.
Phones are a common tool for scammers, law enforcement officials warn. The simplest defense, they say, is simply to screen your incoming calls by letting them go to voicemail. A legitimate caller will leave you their information for your use, according to professionals at the Lisle Police Department and the Illinois Attorney General's office.
"Scammers cast a wide net; they contact a lot of people and hope one or two will send them money," Lisle Deputy Police Chief Ron Wilke said. "The scammer hopes that someone, somewhere, will do what they ask."
The attorney general's office sends out consumer alerts to warn residents about new scams and those that seem to be a growing problem. One to watch out for is the "can you hear me" scam.
Recently, a Lisle resident received a call from an overly friendly voice with a soft giggle, who apologized for having her earphones slip, then readjusted them to ask, "Can you hear me now?" You might automatically reply, "Yes" -- unless you are scam-smart and simply hang up.
With the "can you hear me" scam, the caller records you saying "yes" then edits the recording to indicate you've agreed to buy something or pay for a service.
Another phone scam on the attorney general's alert list is about phony computer tech support. In this scenario, a caller poses as a computer security expert in an attempt to gain access to your networks to download software to your computer that may contain viruses.
The caller informs the recipient that they have identified a problem on their computer and says the recipient should call a toll-free number to allow remote access to their computer. Scammers then can access personal information and are able to install malware, viruses or keylogging software to record personal information, according to the Illinois Attorney General's office.
"If you receive such a phone call claiming your computer has a problem, hang up immediately," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a news release. "I encourage people to contact my office if they want to determine whether a call or message they received is a scam."
A new development scammers use is called "spoofing," in which scammers use whatever number they want to appear on your caller ID. It could read as coming from your own telephone number, or even from the Lisle Police Station.
Letting all calls go to an answering system saves you the trouble of deciding what to do. If a message is left, you can decide to return the call by using a publicly listed phone number you select and not the one a possible scammer leaves.
One recent spoofing scam was a new twist on an old scam, Wilke said. A person who recently returned home from a foreign trip was called and asked whether they were aware they needed to pay a tax to re-enter the country. In this case, the resident hung up and immediately called the Lisle Police Department to ask whether the call was from the department as the caller ID indicated. It was not, and the scammer's attempt was thwarted.
An old telephone scam still in use is the "grandparent scam." A person using a familiar name calls asking that money be sent immediately to help them out in a foreign country because their wallet and identification were stolen. Do not fall for this tale of woe.
Other scams include someone impersonating a drug enforcement agent investigating purchasing drugs overseas, the Internal Revenue Service saying you owe taxes and penalties, utility companies threatening to cut off service if immediate payment is not made, or a fake charity using names very similar to legitimate organizations.
Wilke said to never give any personal identification, credit card numbers or banking information to anyone who calls on the telephone.
"When in doubt, call the Lisle Police Department to check out the circumstances," Wilke said.
Not all scammers use the telephone for their crimes. Some are friendly people walking door to door or driving vehicles, often with out-of-town license plates. Perpetrators of the "seal coat scam" drive around residential areas trying to sell the "leftover" sealer from their last job.
The phony product tends to flake and does not last long. The "home repair fraud" includes siding, roofing or tree trimming. It's best to remember to never let anyone in your home. If they need assistance, tell them to wait outside as you call the police to assist them.
Scammers are clever at what they do, so avoid them. Never give social security or personal information by email or over the phone unless you initiated the call. Shred all documents containing personal information with a crosscut or confetti-cut shredder. Crooks have been known to take long shredded strips and tape them together to gain information.
It is in your best interest to not toss all personal information in the trash at the same time. Tear off a bit of the critical information and shred it at a later date, or add it to a different trash bag or recycling container.
"There is no magic bullet for scam defense, but education is our best defense," Wilke said. "If someone feels like they have been a victim of a scam or scam attempt, they should contact their local police department and report this."
Such information helps the Lisle Police Department to create alert bulletins that inform residents when a scam is detected in the area. The printed information is available at the police station, at the village hall and on the village's website, villageoflisle.org. Familiarizing yourself with this information may lower your risk of becoming a victim.
Remember, there is no need to explain, simply hang up.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Her column appears monthly in Neighbor.
Learn more about scamsHelpful places to check for information about scams:
• Lisle Police Department: 5040 Lincoln Ave., (630) 271-4200, villageoflisle.org, facebook.com/villageoflisle/, twitter.com/villageoflisle, youtube.com/user/lislecatv
• Office of the Illinois Attorney General: Chicago-area consumer fraud hotline, (800) 386-5438; Senior Fraud Helpline, (800) 243-5377; IllinoisAttorneyGeneral.gov
• Federal Trade Commission: consumer.ftc.gov/