phone scams top BBB listAs you may have heard in recent news, the phrase “Can you hear me now?” has been resurrected by scammers telephoning unsuspecting victims and opening with that question. This simple, yet ingenious scam is designed to obtain a recording of your voice saying “Yes” which can be used by scammers to perpetrate identity theft and other fraud in your name. People are being warned to simply remain silent and hang up if they receive a phone call that asks this question.

Unfortunately, this is just one new version of the timeless phone scam — and it’s not the only one to be on the lookout for right now. In an effort to help consumers track and fight scams, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Institute for Marketplace Trust launched a new website last year called Scam Stopper. This site provides information about scams, as well as accepts reports from consumers all over about scams they’ve encountered. It recently released its list of the top 10 scams in 2016, and more than one of them are phone scams. Keep reading to learn more about the scams BBB visitors reported most frequently over the past year and find out how you can avoid them.

Tax scams are No. 1 this time of year

Following two years of constant woes regarding hacking attacks and millions of dollars lost in stolen tax refunds, it’s no surprise that the most commonly reported scams that the BBB recorded in 2016 were tax-related. These made up a hefty 25% of the total logged complaints over the course of the year, and they come in a variety of forms including phishing emails, telephone calls and even fraud perpetrated by tax preparers who either aren’t who they claim to be or use their position to commit fraud. Although phishing itself takes the No. 10 spot on the list with 2.6% of total complaints, it’s important to know that this type of scam often crosses over to be included as part of other types of scams. The recent Gmail phishing scam is one that we could see cropping up throughout the coming tax season, so it pays to familiarize yourself with what phishing is and how to prevent it. A good rule of thumb for avoiding tax scams altogether is to remember that the IRS will not contact you via email or text message, and it will also not threaten you over the phone — anyone calling to demand money is likely a fraudster. As with most phone scams, hanging up is your best option, followed by contacting the IRS through the numbers on its website to confirm whether or not you owe money.

Also be wary of debt collection and tech support calls

Second place on the BBB list goes to debt collection scams, which we’ve discussed in the past. Similar to those perpetrating IRS scams, the people behind debt collection schemes are often more insidious than others, using tactics like fear to try and coerce victims into paying up. Another type of scam that operates similarly is the tech support scam, sitting at seventh place. Tech support scams rely less on provoking people through fear and more on preying on those who are less-than-savvy when it comes to technology, but both center around the same basic premise of tricking unsuspecting victims into handing over money, personal information or access to their computers. Your best protection against falling victim to these scams, and any others that involve someone contacting you over the phone, is to remain suspicious and stand your ground when it comes to giving any information. Get the caller’s information, hang up and do your own research (or place a call of your own) to verify the legitimacy of the caller’s claims.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is

The remaining scams on the BBB list — sweepstakes/prizes/gifts, online purchase, employment, government grant (such as scholarships), advance fee loan and fake check/money order — can all be boiled down to fall under this one simple proverb. People fall for offers of free things constantly, especially online where everywhere you look there seems to be some sort of giveaway or contest going on. Social media is rife with these kinds of scams, and it’s wise to take a step back and think about whether something is too good to be true before jumping to give out your personal information or money for a chance to win something. The same thing goes when making a purchase online; make sure you are using a website that is secure (look for “https://” in the browser) and keep your wits about you.

Plenty of scammers prey on those who are desperate, including people in search of a job as well as students looking for a way to pay for their education. Use your best judgement when it comes to online ads for jobs and scholarships, as it’s all-too-possible for you to become a victim of identity theft or fraud instead. It might seem like the only people who fall for scams online are those who are older, but it’s actually millennials who are the most likely scam victims on the Internet. This may factor into why these two types of scams ranked on the BBB’s top 10 scams list — though anyone of any age can certainly fall for an employment or government grant scam both online and offline.

Finally, fake checks/money orders and advance fee loan scams are two types of financial scams that you might already be familiar with. People have been dealing with the woes of fake checks for decades, and scams involving money orders are quite common these days. Many Craigslist rental scams operate with the help of fake checks or money orders, for example. When you can, it’s best to deal with credit cards over debit cards or a payment service/app like PayPal, which offers purchase protection, to ensure that you don’t get scammed out of your money — or, at least, have a paper trail to track the fraud if you are scammed. Advance fee loan scams refer to loans which require money upfront, usually billed as a “processing fee,” in order to receive your money. Unfortunately, after the fee is paid, victims of these scams don’t receive their loan and are instead left in more dire straits than they started. Opting for a secure form of payment and asking all the necessary questions about the loan can help you avoid falling for such a scam.

It’s a scary world we live in where answering your phone and saying a single word could lead to identity theft or financial woes, but fortunately, you can follow our scams blog to keep yourself up to date on the latest developments and tips to stay safe.