Our Opinion: Be careful of scams

It has been awhile since we have run a story about a reported scam, but we find ourselves back to that subject thanks to a recent phone call we received at the Austin Daily Herald.

Earlier this week, a staff member received a phone call playing a recorded message claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. The message said the SSA was about to suspend said staff member’s social security number pending an investigation of fraudulent activity associated with that number. It then instructed him to press 1 to speak to the investigating officer.

Fortunately, this staff member instantly knew this call was a scam. He started recording the call and hit 1 to speak to the “investigating officer.” In the course of the conversation, he was able to get the “investigating officer” to admit on tape that what she was doing was illegal. While the conversation never got to the root of what the scammer wanted, it is reasonable to assume she was trying to get a bank account number to “investigate” the “fraudulent activity,” as that is how scams of that nature work.

The recording has since been submitted to law enforcement.

Not everyone is able to recognize a scam call such as this. For those not familiar, it is easy to get frightened into believing they may genuinely be in trouble, especially when the scammer is using the name of an official government entity such as the SSA.

That is exactly what the scammers are hoping for.

And that is just one example of how scammers try to con people to give out personal information or money. Another such scam, usually targeted at the elderly, involves the caller claiming to be the intended victim’s grandchild. The scammer will claim to have been arrested and will ask the intended victim to purchase gift cards or pre-loaded credit cards and provide the numbers as a means of paying bail.

Another common scam that targets government and company officials is an email phishing scam in which someone opens an email and clicks on a link that gives the scammer access to their contact list. The scammer then sends emails to people on the list urging them to purchase gift cards for company-related business. They are also asked to email pictures of the gift card and PIN numbers, allowing the scammers to get the information they need to use them.

Then there is the prize scam. In this, the scammer will call or email the intended victim and tell them they have won a cash prize. The scammer will then say there is a fee they need to pay to release the winnings and will attempt to get bank information.

These are just a few examples of the lengths scammers are taking, but you can protect yourself by remembering these tips:

• Government organizations, such as the SSA or IRS, will send out an official letter if something is wrong. They will never call you, especially with a recorded message.

• Never give out personal information over the phone.

• If you receive a call or an email concerning activity on your bank account, contact your bank directly.

• Legitimate organizations will never ask for gift cards or pre-loaded credit cards as forms of payment.

• If you receive a call or email claiming you have won a prize in a contest you did not enter, then you have not won anything. If you have been contacted about being the beneficiary of a deceased individual you have never heard of, then you are not inheriting anything. As law enforcement will tell you, if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.

If you have been the victim of a scam or been contacted by a scammer, please report any information to law enforcement.