Spammers and scammers

This afternoon, I tried calling the Wisconsin Medicare line for free health insurance counseling.  I don’t know whether I hit a wrong number or whether the call was hijacked, but I ended up in a scam call, and I’ll tell you what tipped me off.

Red flags:

  1. The person who answered the phone had a very strong Indian accent.  I knew I was calling during regular business hours, but I thought, “Well, I suppose Medicare gets so many calls that maybe they outsource their calls.”  Wrong!
  2. The person, who said his name was Steve, told me that I had called on the right day to receive a $500 discount card for local businesses.  I said, “OK,” but I was beginning to think, “Why would Medicare need to give discount cards to people calling in as an incentive?”  People don’t need an incentive to call Medicare; they call because they have questions.
  3. “Steve” said that in order for him to send me to the number for the free health insurance counseling, I had to pay $4.99.  That doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but here is where my brain really started kicking into gear.  I said, “Wait a minute, I have to pay $4.99 for my ‘free’ health insurance consultation?”  He said, “Yes, but remember, you are also getting a $500 discount card.”  I said, “I don’t need the discount card,” and he said, “Don’t you like to save money?”  I said, “Yes, which is why I object to paying $4.99 for a ‘free’ consultation.”
  4. “Steve” gave me a number to call which was an 866 number.  I had already noticed that all the published numbers I could find for Medicare are 800 numbers.
  5. I told him that I wanted to hang up and call the number again to be sure I had the right number.  He tried to keep me on the phone.  If it had been a legitimate Medicare person, they would have said, “Go ahead!  Be my guest!” rather than trying to talk me out of hanging up.  So that’s when I hung up.

Shortly after hanging up, I paid close attention as I dialed the number I had for Medicare, and this time I was greeted by an obviously American woman.  I told her about what had just happened and she said, “I’m the only person in this office and I’m the only one that will be answering this phone.”  I told her that the only thing I regretted was that I had given the scammer my address, but she said, “They could look that up in the phone book.”  That made me feel a little better.  She was able to put me through for my totally free health insurance counseling and I got my questions answered by another nice American woman.

I know that scammers usually call their victims and it’s fairly easy to figure out that they are scammers (unless you happen to be an older, very trusting person, which is another story), but all I can figure is that scammers ask for phone numbers that may be a digit or two off a legitimate phone number so that they can pick up the wrong calls.  Mark says that he thinks the call was hijacked; that somehow the scammer tapped into Medicare’s line and picked up before they could.  I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I am here to say that even if you call a legitimate governmental office or some other well-known number, if you get someone with a strong accent who says things that you aren’t expecting, be very suspicious.  If they offer you something that you aren’t expecting or ask for money for something that’s supposed to be free, hang up!

Or, you could try a tactic I heard about recently that a lot of people are doing to try to keep scammers on the line so that they can’t be calling anyone else.  I watched a number of YouTube videos of would-be-victims stringing scammers or telephone sales pitches along to tie up their lines.

The funniest one I heard was one where someone who had called a number to try to sell something asked for the person by name.  The person by that name who answered pretended to be a detective on a murder scene.  He asked the caller how he knew the man and told him that his number had been traced so he better not even think about hanging up because he could be charged with obstruction of justice.  The caller was starting to get nervous but he stayed on the line.  The supposed cop called out behind him, “Don’t touch anything until the forensics team comes to fingerprint the place!”  Then he redirected his attention to question the caller and he said, “Where were you last night between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00?”  The caller said, “I don’t even live in the area.  I live in Colorado.”  The “cop” said, “What was your relationship with the deceased?  You know he was gay.  Was he your lover?”  The poor caller said, “What?  No!”  The call finally ended shortly thereafter, but not before the caller got the scare of his life!

If you aren’t susceptible to scams (I would never recommend this to my mom or my aunt), let’s revolt and turn the tables on these scammers.  If you have the time, play with their minds.  I watched one video (mind you, I don’t spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos like this) where the person called got one of those IRS scam calls where he was told the police were coming to arrest him for fraud, so he played along.  When the scammer asked him for money, he said that his wife had his credit card and wouldn’t give it back.  The scammer would tell him what to say to his wife, and he’d pretend to do so and then pretend to be his wife and say, “No!”  There was another woman who was told she was about to be arrested and she asked if she had time for a shower before they came?  When she was told she had half an hour, she said, “Will they be bringing someone from CSD along to take my eight children?”  Yet another man said that he didn’t trust banks, so he kept all his money in cash in a shoebox.  He was instructed to go to a Rite Aid store and buy an iTunes card and pay to have $7000 loaded onto it.  He said, “I didn’t know the IRS liked iTunes!”  Protect the older folks by keeping scammers on the phone as long as you can with any kind of far-fetched story so they can’t be making other calls!

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