What to say to scammers when they call you on the phone

What to say to scammers when they call you on the phone

By now, most of us think we're pretty hip to scammers.

We know about the scam where one of our friends or relatives is supposedly in big trouble in some foreign country and needs money. Lots of it. Now.

We know about the one targeting taxpayers, and the one aimed at single women looking for love. The scam artists all want your money and/or private information.

Still, it's shocking how many people--especially the elderly--are victims of scammers. Most of these scams originate in Nigeria, Ghana and other foreign countries. 

In Jamaica alone, lottery scamming is a cottage industry targeting nearly 300,000 Americans a year. Most of them are senior citizens who are enticed to send an estimated $300 million annually to the Caribbean island nation.

I started getting phone calls from scammers about a year ago (Yes, it was on my landline, but I'm told we may start getting these sorts of calls on our cell phones soon.).

Different people, always men, always with foreign accents, have told me they are from Microsoft and have detected a major virus on my computer, and they need to take it over.

The first time it happened, I didn't fall for it, but it did scare me.

Just last week, I got another one of these calls. As the scammer spoke, I could feel my blood pressure rising along with my anger. I decided to toy with him.

I talked to the guy slowly and softly, acting a little senile and deaf, while he urged me on. I let him think he was reeling me in, and then I suddenly changed my tune.

In a strong, loud voice I said, "You know what? I KNOW you're full of shit. Don't f-ing call here again or I'm calling the police!"

I hung up. And then I call-blocked him (which is a fantastic feature on my new landline phone although I hear these scammers change phones like you or I change our underwear). I felt emboldened.

But then I started wondering: Was this the best thing to say to scammers when they call you on the phone?

I talked to an officer at the Chicago Police Department who told me the best thing to do when you have a scammer on the line is to just hang up.

If you continue to get harassed, you can file a telephone harassment report with the police department (although the officer admitted there's little they can do as most of the calls come from another country).

I told the officer how I led the guy on and cussed him out. The cop asked me, "Why would you want to do that?"

Because it felt goooood getting a little revenge and wasting the scammer's time. The officer said it was okay to do it, but he stressed to never ever give scammers or, really, anyone you don't know, personal information over the phone.

I decided to ask Northfield-based individual and couples' therapist Rachel Dubrow, LCSW, if she thought opening up my big mouth to the scammer was good for my mental health.

"Raising your voice or doing whatever you do to make yourself feel more in control is good so go for it," said Dubrow."It goes under the umbrella of 'What can we do to empower ourselves?.'"

She also agreed with the Chicago cop and said that if you feel that the scammer could possibly harm you--physically or by identity fraud, etc., get the police involved.

Which brings me to another scam I just learned from Kellie Poliquin, an officer with the Palatine Police Department. It's a practice called "Caller ID spoofing." Scam artists can falsify the telephone number and/or name relayed on your Caller ID.

In other words, your Caller ID might say "BMO Harris Bank," but it's actually a scammer calling. Just remember, if someone is asking for personal information, call the person or company yourself to verify it.

Still, Dubrow added that even if you've been fooled once, don't beat yourself up over it. "Move on," said Rachel. "You've learned a lesson. You'll know what to do next time."

For more information from the U.S. government about scams, check here and here.

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  • My husband got two today from the IRS--on his cell

  • In reply to Carole Kuhrt Brewer:

    The IRS scam was a big one about 11 months ago. Someone figured that immigrants or the stupid could be scared into sending the caller a prepaid debit card to "settle their IRS debt." Anyone with any brains knows that the IRS only engages in official correspondence by e-mail.

  • In reply to jack:

    I meant U.S. Mail. Everyone, including the IRS knows that most e-mail is for scams.

  • Scamming is a real industry, Carole!...What did your husband do?

  • Judy, I'm with you. I used to think that using Caller ID and not picking up would stop them, but it doesn't, so I attempt to harass them back, although I don't cuss. For instance, on the Windows Tech Support call, I asked Mujibar to tell me first why I uninstalled Windows 10, since Microsoft does know. Usually, then, the line goes silent.

    However, I had a real fool yesterday. The message was something about returning my call for a back brace, so I pressed one and asked what made him think I called about that.I asked for his name, and then his real name, to which he said he had to Google it. Then I asked for what company he worked, and he said The House of Doughnuts, but Doughnuts was what they called back braces in India." After suggesting that he Google f-r-a-u-d and telling him I will report him to the FTC, he said "I don't care about the Do Not Call list." So we are dealing with criminals in India who are beyond the law.

  • In reply to jack:

    The part about The House of Doughnuts is really funny. And many of these idiots who call are laughable. But unfortunately, many people fall for these scams and that, of course, is not funny. The worse part is the scammers keep figuring out new ways to scam us. We all really have to be on our toes!

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