Phone scammers use telecommunications products or services to acquire money, information or illegally avoid paying for a purchase or service. Scammers trick either the telecommunication company or their customers into believing that they are talking to legitimate businesses or agencies when they are not. The goal is to create an atmosphere that allows the target to trust them.
Montana phone scams are perpetrated via phone calls, robocalls, e-mails, and text messages. All scam related complaints should be reported to the Montana State Attorney General's Office, through the Montana Department of Justice - Office of Consumer Protection, or Montana Better Business Bureau (BBB). There are various strands of phone scams in Montana, and the Montana Department of Justice has outlined the following as common scams in the state:
- Government Grant Scam - occurs where the caller informs the targets that have qualified for a government grant. Scammers tell their victims that they can get and do anything with the money as soon as they complete an application form. Grant scams are generally used to steal sensitive information from unsuspecting individuals. The scammers typically issue an online form to the target, requesting private information such as credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Eventually, the victim does not get anything from the government. Instead, the scammer may use the victim’s credit card number to purchase goods online.
- Fake Check Scams - check scams are usually targeted at online sellers. A fake check scam occurs when the target sells something over the internet, but the buyer sends a check that is worth more than what they bought. Scammers may tell the target that the excess is for the shipper and request that the target helps pay the shipper with it. Since the check was initially honored by a bank, one may think it is a legitimate check when it is not. The goal is to trick the target into transferring money to another person by making it look like they will get their money as soon as the check is cleared.
- Lottery and Sweepstakes Scam - occurs where the caller tells a target that they have won the sweepstakes or lottery, but that they have to pay tax or a processing fee to receive the money. Scammers may ask the target to wire money to a particular account or provide their credit card information. Generally, what happens is that the caller disappears after collecting the money.
- Lower Interest Rate Scam - where a caller promises to help reduce all the interest rates on the target’s credit card debt if the debts are consolidated with their company. Most times, scammers will ask for credit card number and expiration date to undertake the consolidation. But they eventually use the credit card information to make charges against the account.
- Secretary of State Scam: This typically starts with receiving a supposed state agency notification on your phone or email and ends in losing funds. The notification often requests payment for annual report, renewal of registration, or license. The Montana Secretary of State (SOS) has asked residents to discredit all information except they come from the appropriate office.
In Montana, emergency scams are also known as 'grandparents scams' or 'relative in need scams.’ As the name implies, this scam involves calls from someone claiming to be family, most especially a grandchild. The scammer claims to be in trouble and needs help from the target. They often use emergencies that require confidentiality to prevent the target from discussing the issue with anyone else. Some of their common lies include jail sentences, deportation, and motor accidents. Generally, scammers would have done some fact-finding on the target’s family before engaging in the call. Residents are advised to download a reverse phone number lookup tool ahead of such situations. Such tools are important to know the true identity of callers.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Scam
The three strands of IRS scams in Montana are scam calls, scam mailer, and scam e-mail. Scam calls occur when the caller claims the target is owing are owing some taxes. The caller then indicates that the target wires the money or be ready for arrest. In the case of scam mailers, scammers send documents that look legit to taxpayers. The document usually contains a warning that the federal government has attached a fine for late payment of taxes. The sender leaves contact after claiming that they can help the target deal with the IRS. These mailers are misleading. Residents should know they can get help from local offices in Montana.
Lastly, scam emails occur when a notification carrying the government seal is sent to the target. These emails are used to phish a resident's personal information by requesting that they complete a form sent to them. Victims of IRS scams can contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) for help.
Tech Support Scam
Tech support scam is also known as the “Microsoft scam.” It occurs when an individual impersonates a reputable tech company to defraud innocent individuals. In a tech support scam, the caller claims to work with a reputable company like Microsoft and that Microsoft detected a problem with the target’s computer. It’s immediately followed by request to access the target’s computer to fix the issue. The scammers claim they want to help when, in actual fact, they intend to install spyware on the device to access every piece of information on it. Sometimes, they may request payment for the services.
Voice Phishing Scam
Scammers employ caller ID spoofing to display the information of legitimate businesses and government agencies. Voice phishing occurs when a scammer disguising as a reputable company calls a target and requests personal information, such as social security number, credit card, and account number. Scammers use this information to complete the fraud. Montana residents are advised to avoid calls from unverified individuals. If the call sounds fishy, hang up and use a reverse phone lookup tool to know the caller’s true identity. A legitimate business will not call to ask residents personal questions except it is a law enforcement agency.
How Do I Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phone Scam?
Phone scams are becoming rampant in Montana, and residents need to be more careful while dealing with people over the telephone. Scammers are aware that individuals are becoming conscious of their con games, and this has led to the emergence of new tricks. Consequently, the Montana Department of Justice has listed the following tips to help residents protect themselves from phone scams. They include:
- Do not give out personal information to anyone soliciting it over the phone or the internet. Banks will never call to ask for personal information.
- Never wire or give money to someone with an unverified identity, even if they claim to know you. Always do a follow up before transferring money to anyone over the internet.
- Never send a gift card to anyone you have not met in person.
- Be skeptical about offers that sound too good to be true. Find out what is obtainable in the caller's niche.
- Get a security freeze on your credit card. This ensures that nobody can use the card without your permission.
- Do not answer calls under pressure. Hang up if the caller pressurizes you to take any action.
- Ignore postcards and advertisements for sweepstakes, free trials, or products. It is not possible to win a lottery without applying for it. So, ignore such gimmicks.
- Enroll phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Sign up for Montana Scam alert.
- Handle bank and credit card statements with care. Look out for suspicious charges and report to the right authorities immediately.