A guide to fight phone scams.


By: Diana Bello Aristizábal

Para leer en Español

For the past years, in South Florida, it has become common to hear stories of people who have been victims of scam calls or hear someone complaining about the number of calls received every day with fraudulent purposes. Everyone knows the scene: The telephone rings, someone answers, and the caller requests money through different tricks, supplanting the identity of governmental or private organizations.

In some instances, the potential victims do not fall into the trap but answer the call, which helps the criminals to verify the authenticity of the number, and typically they keep calling to achieve their goal.

Because this is a well-known problem to the vast majority of people living in Florida and, especially in the Miami area, we will explain the current forms of fraud existing in the present, and how to fight against them.


Protect your money, and peace of mind

According to Sergeant Armando Borrego of the Miami-Dade Police Department, and assigned to the Bureau of economic crimes, the cosmopolitan nature of Miami makes the criminal’s work easier.

“There are people living here from all over the world who do not know how the American system works. So, if they get a call, apparently from the police, in which someone asks them for money to pay a bond with the purpose of releasing a family member from jail, for instance, they believe it based on how things work in their country of origin”, states the Sergeant.

According to him, those who commit these criminal acts manipulate their victims to convince them that the situation exposed by phone is real. For this reason, people over 60 years old are usually the most affected ones.

“It is common for them to call an individual alleging that his or her child suffered a car accident, should be taken to the hospital, and money is needed to cover for hospital expenses. Sometimes victims provide additional information, such as the name of the child, which helps them to complete the scam successfully”, he says.

In this regard, it must be clarified that when a severe accident occurs anywhere in the United States with victims, fatal or not, the Police personally visit relatives registered as emergency contacts in the driver’s license to give an official statement of the situation.

On the other hand, in case of an emergency, at any hospital, the patient will always be treated regardless of his or her medical insurance situation, and whether there is money available or not, something that would be analyzed only after the patient is stable.

For Detective Marcos Rodriguez of the Miami-Dade Police Department, and also assigned to the Bureau of economic crimes, in cases like this, common sense should be used. “Call the person that allegedly is in trouble to check if he or she is ok. Also, request the name of the hospital, and contact them directly to verify if your relative was admitted”, says Detective Rodriguez.

Also, be careful with gift cards that fraudsters request as a mean of payment in situations like the one described or when they call representing, for example, the IRS with the excuse of collecting a late tax. It should be noted that no organization in the country asks for money by phone, let alone gift cards, as invoices are always sent by mail.

According to the Federal Trade Commission website, gift cards are a popular way for scammers to steal money because they work as cash: if you buy one, you cannot get your money back, and the beneficiaries cannot be identified “Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer”, warns a press release of October 2018.

As explained in it, “the caller will tell you to get the card at a particular store near you, often Walmart, Target, Walgreens, or CVS (…) then will demand the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card”.

If you paid a scammer with this method, inform the company that issued the card or the store where you bought it to let them know that it was used in a scam. If you act quickly enough, the money might be able to be retrieved.

Another common form of fraud is public services scams against small businesses. Usually, criminals call their victims by posing as official entities, such as the Florida Power Light, with the intention of taking money in exchange for not shutting off public service.

In light of this, the Federal Trade Commission recommends hanging up immediately, calling the public service company, and the Commission, and talking to the business employees so that no one falls into the trap.

“The problem with phone scams, or by any other mean, is that everyday criminals are looking for new ways to steal money. I advise people to trust but always verify everything”, says Sergeant Armando Borrego.

Each time you receive a letter or a call on behalf of an organization, check on the Internet if the number shown is real. If, for instance, you are sent a letter for a traffic ticket, make sure that the time of the infraction is displayed, a picture of the car plate, and a link to a video with the moment when it was committed.


Lock your phone

Although not all calls with fraudulent purposes end in a scam, it is still annoying to be called several times a day and having to interrupt everyday activities. For this reason, it is convenient to make use of the different solutions offered by mobile phone companies to be protected against scams.

T-Mobile, for example, has the Scam ID feature that allows you to immediately identify calls from potential scammers to prevent you from answering; also Scam Block that blocks them before criminals reach the user, and the Name ID that identifies the name, and location of the caller.

Apple, on the other hand, allows its users to detect and block unwanted calls through independent providers applications. To download, and set them up on your cell phone, go into the support website or call the customer service line.

Finally, you can access the Federal Trade Commission website www.donotcall.gov, in which, following a few simple steps, you can register several numbers to be included in the National Do Not Call Registry. Taking this action may help to reduce the number of incoming fraudulent calls.


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