Lots of scams out there, but many obvious signs

Franklin state police say they continue to field frequent calls from people reporting telephone scams.

In fact, one dispatcher told the newspaper last week that she sometimes receives three or four calls on one shift about potential scams.

But experts stress there are obvious signs to look for to identify scams. And those experts also say there are several helpful tips out there for people who receive a call they think may be a scam.

Michelle Tarr from Venango County Older Adult Services pointed out that Social Security and other federal agencies never call people out of the blue. Those agencies always send a letter through the mail saying they will call.

The Social Security Administration website says the SSA will never “call you to demand an immediate payment; demand that you pay a debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe; require a specific means of payment, such as requiring you to pay with a prepaid debit card; ask you for your personal information or credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or threaten you with arrest or deportation.”

If callers who say they are from the SSA say any of these things, that is a sure sign it is a scam call.

Jake McVay of Protective Intake Crisis for Venango County added that banks and credit cards also do business through the mail, not by calling people.

“If you get a call take the information and verify it. Don’t call back the number. Call your bank and verify the information with them,” Tarr said.

Michelle McGee, the community service officer for Franklin state police, said “Ask for a call back number and/or supervisor’s name for verification. Legitimate banks and credit card companies are well aware of these scam tactics and they do not make phone calls asking for sensitive account information.”

Tarr and McVay say never give out your Social Security number, banking information or any other information over the phone.

“Never send money over the phone,” McVay said.

McGee said scammers are very persuasive and skilled in manipulation. She said they sometimes have some limited personal information to make the call seem legitimate.

“Often, they may ask for confirmation and reference a certain account that the person actually holds,” McGee said.

She said a way to protect against fraud is to monitor all account activity carefully and get a free credit report on yourself.

Tarr added that if a person gets a call saying their grandson or granddaughter is in trouble, they should call their child or another relative to ask where their grandchild is.

Another tip Tarr offered was not to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the phone number. If the call is important, the caller will leave a voicemail message, Tarr said.

McGee said caller ID is no longer reliable.

“Any phone number can be input to make it appear as if it’s a legitimate phone number,” McGee said. She added that local 814 area codes, area cell phone numbers and legitimate business numbers are being used.

Tarr, McVay and McGee all pointed out that everyone should be vigilant because scams don’t only target the elderly.

“Facebook messenger and other social media apps and games are another means by which individuals may fall victim. Scammers reach out and convince someone to purchase Google Play cards in certain amounts, send to a P.O. box and in return, they promise a large cash sum will be sent,” McGee said.

One other telltale sign of a scam on the phone or over the Internet is if a person is asked to pay for anything with gift cards, according to the Federal Communications Commission website. The website said scammers often ask for this form of payment because it is hard to trace and non-refundable.

Some scammers call and claim the person has won a big prize or sweepstakes, then say you must pay a fee or give them sensitive banking information in order to get the prize, according to the FCC website.

“You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter,” McGee said.

Another way to identify email scams and scams in the mail is to look for grammatical errors or strange email addresses.

“A large well-known corporation is not going to have a Hotmail or Yahoo account,” McGee said.

She said it is also important to be aware of links within the body of an email.

Links from scammers could load malicious software onto a computer if they are opened, the FCC website said.

McGee said people can go to IC3.gov for more information about scams or make a complaint if they believe they have fallen for a scam.