Editorial: Let’s outsmart the phone scammers

  • About 40 people at the South Deerfield Polish American Club listen to a speaker at a seminar aimed at educating elders on how to avoid phone and email scams.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Some people are just despicable. Instead of working for their money, they try to trick it out of others through fake phone calls.

Often the scam caller will pretend to be a family member in trouble, claiming to be in jail or stranded in a foreign country. They need help getting back home.

That’s what happened earlier this year to two Deerfield residents, who were bilked out of a total of $44,000 when they were told their grandchildren were arrested. Money was dutifully sent and unfortunately never recovered.

These two people thought they were doing the right thing. But unfortunately they played into the hands of people who do the wrong thing.

This week the Deerfield Police Department joined the South County TRIAD to educate seniors about how to protect themselves from devious callers.

Deerfield Police Detective Adam Sokoloski spoke about how the scam artists can use audio from specific YouTube channels or info found on social media to sound just like the supposed loved one in trouble.

They play on people’s emotions. They try to get them to act fast.

And often they can get vulnerable people to give their date of birth, Social Security number, address and bank account number.

Of course, it’s not just the elderly who fall for these scams. The young are also targeted. Let’s face it. Everybody with a phone number is. (And, yes, the scammers will use email as well.)

For a while, cellphones seemed to be immune to robocalls. But as we all know, that changed.

Last month, Massachusetts residents received 55 million robocalls, according to YouMail, a robocall-blocking service.

To address the problem nationwide, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, filed a bill in January — The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act —with U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota. If passed, the act would give the Federal Communications Commission broader authority to pursue robocallers and enforce telemarketing restrictions, including issuing fines.

While we encourage Congress to address the problem, we seriously doubt the law would stop the scam callers who might not even be in this country.

So, what can we do about this problem?

The message at the Deerfield seminar was: just hang up.

We offer another suggestion: don’t pick up.

If you don’t recognize the phone number, don’t answer. If it’s real person you know, he or she will leave a message and you can return the call.

If you believe a relative is indeed in trouble in another country or jail, call another family member to verify the information.

Of course, there are tricksters who will leave a message. It may be a bit startling to get one from a supposed IRS officer threatening arrest because money is supposedly owed. But that’s not the way it works.

Hit delete.

We also urge people who understand how scam calls work to speak with family members, young, old and in the middle, about how to protect themselves. If necessary, help program numbers in their phones, so they know trustworthy people are calling.

Let’s outsmart the scammers.