(NEXSTAR) – A few years ago, scammers were calling every number they could get their hands on with “urgent warnings” about expiring car warranties. Then, in 2022, student loan scams were all the rage.
But the Federal Communications Commission cracked down on both types of scams last year, proposing massive fines and shutting down robocalls. Faced with that disciplinary action, scammers didn’t quit. They got crafty.
Three different types of scams are now flooding people’s phones, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a service that screens and blocks spam calls.
One scam that has exploded in popularity targets small business owners, Quilici explained, and threatens to take their business listing off of Google – unless you pay up.
“So if you’re a dog walker, and you’ve got this little Google page, or Yelp listing, you real rely on people searching your name,” he said. “They threaten to take those away and they pretend to be Yelp’s or Google’s agent.”
Google does some automated dialing to businesses, the company says. “However, Google will never ask you for payment information over the phone or guarantee you favorable placement in our products.” If you’re ever in doubt, Google has information posted about how to tell a legitimate call from an illegitimate call here.
Another major scam circulating right now relates to Medicare, Quilici told Nexstar. “I think it’s because it’s open enrollment now, so there’s tons of stuff where it’s really hard to tell what might be a legitimate thing versus what’s not.”
Medicare scammers are sophisticated, the FCC warns. They often target older Americans and spoof numbers to make them look like they’re coming from a legitimate government agency.
“When you pick up, a scam caller usually starts chatting you up to engage you, asking you conversational questions to put you at ease. Whatever scam scenario follows, the caller is trying to get your personal information, such as your Medicare card number, your Social Security number, or other health insurance identification,” the FCC says.
But don’t give any of that information to anyone who calls you unsolicited, the FCC advises. If you need help with Medicare, hang up and dial 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit medicare.gov.
Another popular scam takes advantage of the financial crunch people are feeling right now and offers too-good-to-true solutions to get rid of debt. The caller may offer to negotiate with your creditors to consolidate or lower what you owe. They may also claim they can help boost your credit score quickly.
While some credit services may be legitimate, Quilici admits, but many are fraudulent. The FCC adds these scammers may charge you a huge fee up front, then fail to do anything about your debt, leaving people in a worse financial position than where they started.
The Federal Trade Commission reported consumers lost more than $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022 – a 30% rise over the year before. Not all those scams were conducted over the phone, but many were. The FTC reports phone scams had the highest per person loss, with a median of $1,400 per person.