Catch Of The Week: Phone Scams … What To Know!

Los Alamos
Your cell phone is ringing, shouldn’t you answer that? Or maybe not … phone scams get trickier every week.
Here are several that have been active across the U.S. recently:
  • The “One Ring” or “Wangiri” scam: your phone will ring once or twice, and then the caller hangs up and doesn’t leave a message. These calls are always from an international number; you can tell because there will be a “+” symbol displayed in front of the area code and caller ID will usually display the country. Most recently these calls have been originating from Sierra Leone, area code “+232”. The goal is to get you to call back so they can charge you high fees for the international call. These calls tend to happen overnight and early Friday mornings. Do not answer or return a call from an unknown international number!
  • Scams impersonating the police, IRS, or other figures of authority: a recent scam in our community involved a caller claiming to be from the “Sheriff’s office” and demanding gift cards to pay a supposed fine. Or the call might be from the “IRS” about your “overdue taxes”. The police, IRS, etc. will never call you to demand money or gift cards. The IRS never calls you, period.
  • Medicaid or Medicare scams: New Mexico has recently seen an increase in this type of scam. Companies will try to push unnecessary medical products, like orthopedic braces, on senior citizens. A red flag for this type of scam is pressure to purchase a medical device you don’t need.
  • Social Security number scams: in this new scam, the caller claims to be calling from the U.S. Social Security Administration, and the caller ID is spoofed to display the name “U.S. Social Security Administration”. The caller will claim that someone in another state is using your name and social security number to do something illegal and that there is a warrant for your arrest. To get rid of the “warrant” they ask you to send money or purchase gift cards and send the codes. The U.S. Social Security Administration will never call you to warn you of possible fraud, and would not demand money to clear up a “warrant”.
  • Family member in trouble scam: the scammer will impersonate a child or grandchild and claim they had an accident, or are in jail, and need you to send money fast. They will claim the reason they don’t sound like your loved one is because of “the accident” or they “have a cold”. If something seems off- it probably is! Hang up and report it to the police, call your loved one to verify she or he is all right.
  • Apple “support” scam: the caller will try to convince you that your Apple ID was compromised, or that there has been suspicious account activity, and they need your login credentials or verification codes. This scam is very tricky; it uses caller ID spoofing to impersonate the real Apple support phone number and display the Apple logo. The calls are frequently automated, asking you to “press 1” to connect to Apple support. Apple will never call you without you initiating contact, and they will never request your Apple ID password, iCloud credentials or verification codes to provide you with support. Same thing goes for any calls claiming to be from Microsoft “support”.
These are just a few of the phone scams that are seeing a lot of activity right now- but there are many more. If you receive a call from an unknown number, the best thing to do is to ignore it. If you have a missed call from an unknown number, don’t call back.
You can also block unwanted calls through your phone service provider or with apps or settings on your cell phone. On an iPhone, blocking numbers is easy. Next to the call record under “Recent Calls”, click carefully on the circled “I” at the right of the call. Scroll down to Block this Caller, then confirm your desire to block it.
All of these scams have one thing in common: they use fear and urgency to try to scare you into falling for the scam. Everyone is a potential target for these so be aware. If something feels wrong, hang up, and report to the authorities if needed.
Need help stopping unwanted calls? The FTC has some excellent resources for this, and for reporting scam calls:
You can find more resources for dealing with and reporting scams here.
Editor’s note: Becky Rutherford works in information technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory.