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How to protect yourself from being scammed over the phone

Many types of robocalls are created as a fraud scheme, but there are steps you can take to identify and avoid them. Sponsored by AARP Washington.

Washington residents receive 560 million robocalls each year. Experts estimate that half of those calls may be attempts to defraud people.

“Fraud has always been a problem,” said AARP Washington State Director Doug Shadel. “When we tend to be in a national crisis like we are now with the COVID situation, it just exacerbates it. During periods of economic uncertainty, that’s when all of the scammers come out. Everyone is in a heightened state of anxiety, and that makes us vulnerable.”

There are various types of phone scams, including tech support scams, government agency imposters and phishing attempts. These are all efforts to gain access to your personal and/or account information and take money. COVID-related scams are now also common.

Sign up for AARP Washington's free speaker series, Sorting Fact from Fiction: Finding truth in an infodemic.

Shadel has advice for spotting fraudulent calls, so you can avoid becoming a victim.

  • Beware of fraudulent robodialers. If a name-brand company calls to tell you there’s a problem, you should ignore it as it may be a fraudulent robodialer. If you are concerned about your account, don’t respond to that phone call, and independently contact the company instead.
  • Look out for neighbor spoofing. If you get a call that has your area code but it a number you don't recognize, let it go to voicemail. Scammers can fake the number they are calling from so it looks like a local call.
  • Listen for emotional and fear-based pitches. Research now says that fear works better than a promise of wealth for scammers because we are currently living in a heightened state of fear.
  • Install a reputable robocall blocker on your phone. This can identify robodialers and can eliminate 90 to 95 percent of unwanted calls.

If you feel you’ve been scammed, it’s important to file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission. Although you are unlikely to get your money back, it can help stop future scams.

AARP also provides a Fraud Watch Network which gives you access to a free helpline (877-908-3360) if you think you or a loved one has been scammed. Volunteers will provide guidance and advice.

Sign up now for AARP Washington's Free Online Speaker Series, "Sorting Fact from Fiction"

To help Washingtonians better sort fact from fiction, AARP, the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU are offering a four-part series of free online events called Sorting Fact from Fiction: Finding truth in an infodemic. The event is open to everyone. Pre-registration is required. Sign up now at AARP.org/factfromfiction

  • Sep. 16, 11 AM -- Jevin West, Confronting Misinformation: How to avoid falling for and spreading misinformation, disinformation, and “fake news”
  • Oct. 3, 11 AM -- Brett Johnson,  Inside the Mind of "The Original Internet Godfather": A former Dark Web mastermind details how scammers convince you to hand over your hard-earned money
  • Oct. 14,  6 PM -- Jeffrey Hancock, The Future of Lying: The new rules of deception and trust
  • Oct. 24, 11 AM -- David Mikkelson & Jevin West, The Truth is Out There: Fact checking tips and resources

Sorting Fact From Fiction is sponsored by AARP Washington in partnership with the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU.