By Rebecca Worthington

Phone scams are on the rise, with billions of automated calls targeting U.S. citizens every month. It is estimated that one in three Americans admit to having been the victim of a phone scam in the past year. The numbers are staggering and can lead to significant losses for those who fall prey to them. Here are 7 ways to recognize a phone con artist.

1. They contact you

Unsolicited calls asking for payment or personal information are usually scams. A lot of people are fooled because crooks have started using familiar phone numbers to sound like more legitimate calls. This includes calls that appear to be from someone in your neighborhood or from your area code. On the other hand, if it is a number with an area code that you don’t recognize, it could also be a scam. The Better Business Bureau warns that there are places outside of the United States where the phone numbers actually look like national long distance numbers. For example, 809 and 284 are area codes in the Caribbean.

2. If there is a delayed greeting, it is probably a scammer.

I know I get one or two of these delayed greetings every day. If the caller doesn’t answer right away, they are probably using an autodialer and it could be a scam. Don’t be afraid to hang up on such calls. If a legitimate person really wants to talk to you, they’ll call you back and leave a voicemail message.

3. The caller asks for your personal information

Anytime someone you haven’t contacted asks for your personal information, such as a social security number, financial, or credit card account information, they are most likely a phone con artist. As an executive with a federal credit union, I can tell you that no reputable financial institution will call you, text you, or ask you to click a link to verify information. This is a violation of very strict privacy policies. Instead, financial institutions like Benchmark Federal Credit Union will leave you a recorded message asking you to call us at your convenience. Make sure the phone number on the message matches the one you’ve always used for your financial institution, and then call it back.

4. A caller says there is a problem with your account

This could include a caller contacting you about a problem with your Social Security number, or perhaps an unknown account. Scammers often claim to be from a business, bank or credit union, or even a government agency. If a caller tells you there’s a problem with your Social Security number or account, or asks you to pay a fine, don’t take the hook. Government employees and financial institutions will never call to ask for money like this.

5. The caller asks for money up front in exchange for something

Believe it or not, people fall victim to this scam and send money for the promise of a prize or something of value. Some phone scammers will ask for an upfront fee for something. They will ask you to wire the money or send gift cards. If someone asks you to do it, hang up. This is a scam.

6. They tempt you with a price or an offer that is too good to be true.

If someone calls and says you’ve won a big cash prize, trip, or other big prize, it is probably a scam. This is especially true when it comes to an award for a design that you don’t even remember participating in. The caller can even force you to act quickly before you miss something. There is no reason to decide anything while you are on the phone. The only thing you might miss is a scam.

7. The caller’s tone becomes threatening

A con artist can become intimidating and irritable, especially if the call doesn’t go his way. It’s a big red flag that something is wrong. Hang up. It is a scam.

Common Phone Scams to Watch Out for: Impostor Scams, Loan Scams, Debt Relief Scams, Investment Scams, Prize and Lottery Scams, Travel Scams, Charity Scams, and Extended Warranty Scams cars.

If you suspect a phone scam involving your finances, bank or credit union accounts, be sure to call your financial institution to inquire about it. At Benchmark Federal Credit Union, we make protecting our members’ accounts and personal data a top priority and may use additional security measures to help protect accounts at risk. Be sure to report scams over the phone to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by calling them at 1-877-382-4357. In Pennsylvania, you can contact state consumer protection offices for help with a scammer over the phone. Finally, contact your phone company for call blocking tools and apps that allow you to block illegal and unwanted calls.

Rebecca Worthington is Vice President of Community Relations at Benchmark Federal Credit Union. The only federal credit union to serve Chester County exclusively, Benchmark was named Business of the Year by the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce. For more information on protecting your financial well-being, visit BenchmarkFCU.org.


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