Fraudulent activities targeted at unsuspecting Missourians and perpetrated over the phone are referred to as phone scams. Some fraudsters contact individuals over the phone to extort money or valuables or cajole them into revealing their financial information. Generally, phone scammers mask their true identities and take on the identities of legitimate organizations or government agencies. The goal is to trick the target into trusting the phone scammer, which can only be done by impersonation. As an operation tool, phone scammers often use pre-recorded robocalls, live calls, emails, and text messages to accomplish their schemes. Anyone that receives suspicious calls can use a phone lookup service on privately owned websites and mobile applications to ascertain the call’s source.
Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section provides residents an avenue to file a complaint regarding fraud or deception online or by calling 800-392-8222. On the News and Updates Section of the Attorney General website, Missourians are regularly updated with trends on phone scams and how to avoid them.
- Lottery - A scammer offers to sell winning lottery tickets that they cannot cash and then come up with an excuse of being an illegal immigrant or something similar. In most cases, the lottery ticket is counterfeit.
- Need Help scam - Caller claims to be in dire need of money to sort out an emergency and promises to pay back. These persons may even send a fake ID to the recipient to gain their trust.
- 900 Numbers - Products or services that are nonexistent or worthless are offered via these numbers.
- Travel Club - Caller offers luxurious airfare/hotel or vacation packages. These packages mostly have hidden fees and conditions, sky-high rates for an extra person, or the place is a dump or does not even exist.
- Contest Winner - Target is informed that they have won a prize but must send money for postage or registration, or call 800 numbers for details.
- Credit/Phone Card - Scammer requests the target’s credit/phone card number, pretending to send them a product or verify insurance. Instead, the scammer makes unauthorized purchases or calls to the target’s number.
- Government Service - The scammer impersonates a government agency or reputable firm using Caller ID spoofing and offers Social Security service that they claim is required or useful.
What Are IRS Scams?
The Attorney General warns Missourians about the possible scams that are associated with the tax season. During the tax season, fraudsters take advantage of the anxiety and possible confusion of the season and impersonate, steal money or financial information from unsuspecting residents. These phone scammers may call, claiming to be from the IRS, and request certain payment or personal information. State residents should be wary of such calls and know that the IRS never calls to demand immediate payment over the phone or request passwords, PINS, or confidential information for credit card, bank, or other accounts from persons.
Victims may file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and indicate “IRS Telephone Scam” in the filed complaint comments or report this case online to the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section.
What Are Foreign Lotteries/Sweepstakes Scams?
These scams begin with the target receiving a phone call, where the caller says they have won a large sum of money. The caller then tells the “winner” that they will need to make payments to cover fees and taxes associated with the foreign lottery or sweepstakes. Missourians should be aware that no legitimate lottery or sweepstakes will require that winners pay money upfront before they can access the win.
What Are Charity/Religious Group Scams
A charity or religious group scam involves an individual receiving a call from an unfamiliar charity or religious group, soliciting monetary assistance. In most cases, the organization does not exist, or only a small part of the money is given to charity. The callers may also use impersonation to make the recipient fall victim to their ploys by taking on legitimate organizations' identities. Ensure to investigate the legitimacy of the organization before accepting to make any donation. Instead of cash donations, make payment by checks payable to the organization, but not to the individual.
Also, always call the charity the caller claims to represent and ask them if they know the solicitations being made in their name.
What Are Telemarketing Scams?
Fraudulent persons often act as telemarketers selling products or services over the phone. These phone scammers may even claim to be salespersons representing reputable organizations that the recipients are familiar with and maybe have previously done business with. Missourians are advised against buying anything over the phone, especially when the call's source is not verified. If interested in the product or service being marketed, request that the salesperson send you details in writing and do in-depth research before purchasing. Even with this, the recipient may still be scammed if not careful; a recent popular scam involves sending an "information packet" for which the recipient pays cash on delivery (C.O.D.) charges when it arrives by common carrier.
Furthermore, avoid making payments over the phone, and if you must, ensure the company is reputable and if using a credit card, do not use a cordless phone when you place the call. Conversation via a cordless phone could be overheard.
How Do I Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phone Scam?
- Receive up-to-date details on phone scams in the state - On the News and Updates Section of the Attorney General website, Missourians are regularly updated with new trends on phone scams and how to avoid falling victim to them.
- Be aware of scammers’ schemes - Phone scammers target almost everyone in the state; hence, be careful when receiving phone calls, even from numbers you are familiar with. You may also confirm the caller’s ID by using a phone lookup service.
- Be wary of making instant purchase decisions or accept offers over the phone - The goal of scammers is to pressure the target to make instantaneous decisions by telling them that the offer is only available for a short period. Regardless of what the caller says, allow time to do proper research on the company and make an informed decision.
- Never disclose personal and financial details to a caller over the phone - No matter how convincing the caller sounds, resist the urge to disclose personal details over the phone. Banks, utility companies, and other legitimate organizations never request a client’s personal and financial information over the phone.
- Register on the Do Not Call Registry - Sign up for the Missouri No-Call list by electronically submitting a form or calling toll-free 1-866-NOCALL1 (1-866-662-2551). Residents can also register on the National Do Not Call Registry. Both registries help control unsolicited sources and put them in check; hence, reducing the risk of falling victim to a phone scam.
- File a complaint when a phone scam is suspected - Promptly file a complaint regarding fraud or deception online or by calling 800-392-8222.
- Avoid answering robocalls - Most robocalls have scam intentions, avoid them, and, if you unintentionally answer them, hang up as soon you realize what they are. Also, avoid following the instructions given during the call.
- Hang up the call if the caller chooses to hide their identity - A caller hiding his or her identity is enough reason to hang up the call. Most of the time, these types of calls are from scammers. Feel free to ask questions if unsatisfied with the caller’s introduction and hang up the caller refuses to answer them.
- Avoid connecting to free unprotected Wi-Fi in public places - Scammers use unprotected Wi-Fi in public places to unlawfully access unsuspecting users’ personal information.
- Use a reverse phone lookup service to research suspected telephone numbers.
- Take note of the following keywords from scammers and terminate the call -
a. Cash only
b. Too good to be true
c. Secret plans
d. Get rich quick
e. Something for nothing
h. Last chance
i. Today only
j. Left-over material