"Good morning! I'm calling from the National Institutes of Health. You've been selected to receive a grant for $14,000."
Sound familiar? It's a new scam hitting folks over the phone.
The caller asks you to make a small transaction through iTunes or Green Dot to pay the "processing fee." That's when they get your information and steal from your accounts.
These kinds of scams make me sick. If it's not someone posing as the National Institutes of Health, it's someone calling from the IRS or another agency.
A good thing to remember: most government agencies will contact you by mail first. For instance, the IRS doesn't initiate contact through the telephone. If you really owe money, it will send a notice in the mail first. And real IRS agents never demand immediate payment by credit card or wire transfer.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scammers can now change their caller ID info. They can even pose with a local number so you'll be more inclined to answer.
This happened to a colleague's friend just last week. She saw a local Maryland number and answered. The speaker started with "Thank you for being a loyal customer of our company! You've been selected for a free vacation!"
She hung up, wondering how she could be a loyal customer of a company she didn't know. It was clearly a scam.
But perhaps the most infuriating scam out there involves preying on grandparents. Earlier this year, scammers started calling older folks and posing as a grandchild in trouble. Often they'd add "please don't tell mom or dad about this!"
The best way to prevent this? Tell the caller you're going to reach out to his/her parents or siblings to get help. Don't fall for the trap of "not telling."
And whatever you do, make sure you follow these rules:
1) Do not reveal any personal information. Especially keep your credit card, Social Security, and bank account numbers private.
2) Don't give into pressure. If it's any kind of sales pitch, investment recommendation, or charity, don't do any business over the call. Take the time to research the organizations and see if they are legitimate first.
3) Don't make any payments. Spending money to establish a connection or pay a fee is a clear scam. Do not pay for any registration, shipping, or processing fees for an offer.
If you have older parents who answer every call, try leaving this list next to all their telephones as a reminder. Similarly, you can establish a code word or phrase for your family members if ever they are in trouble and need help.
We've written before about the National Do Not Call Registry, but we got plenty of complaints about the list not working. And with so many scammers and robot calls out there, it's hard to keep on top of them all.
But there is one service we recommend for cutting some of these calls.
My researcher Amanda was recently at her friends' house for dinner when the phone rang. Her hosts listened, and it only rang once, then stopped. They cheered... Their new "trick" saved them from yet another annoying "robot" call.
It turns out her friends had signed up for the service Nomorobo. Now when their house phone rings, if it's an automated sales call, the service disconnects the call after the first ring. According to her hosts, the program has caught about 90% to 95% of those calls, making their lives much more peaceful.
Nomorobo is free for landline phones and $1.99 a month for a cellphone. You can learn more right here.
Finally, if you receive harassing calls from the same person or company, report them immediately to your local police. And report them to the FTC. Call them at 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to ftc.gov/complaint.
What We're Reading...
- Our tips for dealing with tax-season scammers.
- Read more on the FTC's consumer page on phone scams.
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry.
- Something different: The tragic dangers of protein shakes.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
August 17, 2017