When a Stranger Calls, They Could Be Scamming You

By Marleigh Green

If you own a phone—especially if you own a business—you’ve probably gotten a call from a telemarketer.

Telemarketers, in-large-part, are harmless salespeople; however, in recent times, diabolical schemes have been drawn-up by nefarious folks using a telemarketing-system. While telemarketing scams have existed for years, they’ve recently become more advanced and sinister in their techniques.

According to the Telemarketing Sales Rule by the Federal Trade Commission, “The Telemarketing Sales Rule, which requires telemarketers to make specific disclosures of material information; prohibits misrepresentations; sets limits on the times telemarketers may call consumers; prohibits calls to a consumer who has asked not to be called again; and sets payment restrictions for the sale of certain goods and services.” You can read it in full here.

For many years consumers have grown accustomed to getting pre-recorded phone calls, known as “robocalls” and are savvy at recognizing when they are not talking to a real person. However, the technology that makes products like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa has become more readily available to telemarketers and scammers, and now it isn’t so easy to tell. Telemarketing bots, also known as “chatbots” are tools for clever schemes that can do damage to your wallet.

A common scam that’s been making headlines lately is the “Can you hear me?” scam. The telemarketer or chatbot will ask the victim “can you hear me?” to which one would logically reply “yes”; unfortunately, this simple affirmation can be used against you. The scammer, having a recording of your voice saying “yes,” can now subscribe you to services or sell you products that you never agreed to.

Think you can voice a complaint, cancel your order, or refuse to pay?

Well now they’ve got an edited voice recording of you agreeing to be signed up for their service.

With voice technology becoming more realistic, one can end up having a conversation with a robot and not realize it right away, simply because they sound more lifelike. Chatbots will laugh, add words like “uh” and “um”, or even pretend that they are having an issue with their headset to spark a belief that they are a real person.

The bad news is, this new scam isn’t the only one.

Another scam that occurs year-round is a fake call from Microsoft. The person on the other end will call to say they want to fix your Microsoft software, and that there is an issue with your computer. This scheme is designed to make you install malware, which the company will charge you to remove. Furthermore, malware can access personal and financial information stored on your computer. Unless you call Microsoft for troubleshooting yourself, they will never reach out to you.

Scammers will lie, threaten legal action against you, claim there is a legal complaint, or otherwise find some way to scare you into doing what they ask. They are not standard telemarketers, so they do not follow the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

To avoid this happening, a good rule of thumb is to simply not answer the call. If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, ignore it. Oftentimes the area code will be from a different state or country. Local calls can be dangerous too, so when a stranger calls, don’t pick up.

If you do find yourself on a call with a telemarketer, and want to make sure it’s not a scam, remember to ask questions. The Telemarketing Sales Rule requires sales-callers to 1) identify themselves, 2) make clear the purpose of the call is to sell goods or services, 3) describe briefly the nature of the goods or services. If for whatever reason they are unable to answer questions regarding who they are or what they’re selling: hang up.

Lastly, but most importantly, know that large-scale companies and agencies like Microsoft, Apple, Federal Government agencies like the IRS, or State-Government agencies will practically never call you directly, and will most likely attempt to contact you via mail. If you find yourself on the end of a call with someone claiming to be from the IRS demanding money from you and want to make sure it’s real: hang up the phone and call the IRS.

Though you can’t guarantee these phone-scammers won’t call you, you can make sure to don’t get scammed by 1) never giving your financial information over the phone to those you don’t unequivocally trust, and 2) asking questions to callers, making sure they are who they say.

Original article: http://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-chatbot-phone-scam-20170324-story.html

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