SEATTLE — As technology advances, consumers have to work hard and be vigilant in order to protect themselves against fraud. Hi-tech scammers are always thinking up new ways to steal people's money. The latest and greatest way is a telephone scam called "spoofing."
Spoofing uses technology to display local numbers you may recognize on your caller ID, rather than the "PRIVATE" or "UNKNOWN" labels that you would be more cautious of. "They can take my number in the AG's office and dial into your phone," explained Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, "So you think you're hearing from someone at the AG's office -- no, they've spoofed you. It's not the actual number."
A new state survey by AARP Washington showed that most people are unaware of the latest techniques scammers are using to mask their true identities, putting them at risk of fraud. The survey found:
- Telephone scams, called "robocalls" or "imposter calls", coming into Washington State have more than doubled in recent years to 560-million calls a year.
- Half of these calls may be attempts to defraud consumers.
- 60% of Washington adults say they are more likely to answer the phone if their caller ID shows a local number.
- 48% of respondents would likely answer if shown an area code where their friends and/or family live.
- 41% say they are more likely to pick up if the prefix on the caller ID matches their own.
"The technology is so good," says AG Ferguson, "They literally can have that 206 area code. They can look make it look like the sheriff's calling you, [or] the IRS, and it's absolutely not any of those entities or individuals."
Spoofing is common and easy for anyone to do, "I can download an app for $5 that allows me to spoof you," said AARP's Doug Shadel, "People need to stop relying on caller ID to know who's calling."
If you pick up the phone, and the person on the other end is asking for money, be very wary, "Fraudulent individuals want to put you in a state of deep emotion. Fear, for example," explained AG Ferguson. They might threaten you, saying that you'll be put in jail if you don't pay, "Clear thinking folks panic, 'Oh, my God, I'm in trouble. I need to pay that thousand dollars, or whatever the amount might be, just to avoid more trouble."
"If you feel yourself actually getting into a heightened state of emotion, just don't act right away," suggested Shadel, "Don't respond to the person who's putting you into that state of fear." If you genuinely cannot tell if a call is real, run it by somebody who you trust. People who live alone are targeted by these telephone scammers, so it's important to be cautious and to talk to neighbors, friends, or family about it.
If you've fallen victim and have lost money to a scam, there are steps you can take. Report it, by calling the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 and the Attorney General's office 1-800-551-4636 . They are available to help guide you through the difficult process. "We'll try and return money if we can -- but also to shut it down. So someone else down the road, one of your neighbors, another Washingtonian, is not a victim to that scam," explained AG Ferguson.