On Computers: Internet scams

Jim Hillibish

Compared to Internet email, the chances of getting ripped off on the telephone seem less. The bad boys have noticed this, and now are busy integrating the phone into their efforts to collect your account numbers and passwords.

The “hook” can be an official-looking email that requests you to call a phone number. Or it can be a digital phone call ordering you to call another number.

Then you’ll be asked to provide answers to questions, mostly about your credit card or commercial websites you use. Included will be passwords and the security code on the back of your card (they probably already have your number).

The “hook” to get you to call takes many forms. They may entice you by offering gift cards if you complete the “consumer survey.” They may email you “there is a problem with your credit card account. We have deactivated your card. Call our Activation Center.”

The attempts are easy to spot. They always ask you to call a second number.

Banks and credit card companies are aware of these scams. None of them conduct official business this way. That makes the chance of your call being a scam 100 percent.

If you should happen to get roped into this, you will be placed on a sucker list sold to other guys doing the same crime. You’ll wind up with a flood of similar attacks.

Hundreds of thousands of people fall for this each year and wind up losing hundreds of millions.

If you get one of these and are not convinced it’s a scam, call your bank or the number on the back of your credit card. You’ll quickly find out if they do business this way.

The scam has expanded to include automated phone calls. You may be told you’ve won a big prize or there is a problem with your account. Then you are directed to call another number, the “Prize Center” or bank “Security Department.”

If you don’t answer the phone, these guys will keep calling forever. You’ll be trapped in their automated dialing program. Some remedies include:

Get caller ID and take down the phone numbers. Your phone may be able to block calling numbers. The phone company can do it, too.

Ask your phone company to automatically block all calls to you from 1-800 numbers.

Be sure to check your call-waiting screen before answering.

Be aware that the scammers work overtime trying to block these defenses. In extreme cases, you’ll need to cancel your phone number and get a new, unlisted one.

The Do Not Call list stops some calls, but only from legitimate telemarketer companies. Scammers don’t feel threatened by it.

We all need to guard our phones as we do our email boxes.  Be suspicious. A good rule is to not respond to anything you have not requested. That will solve most of the problems.