‘Tis the season to be leery of telescammers

If you are a senior reading this and own a phone — after all, who doesn’t? — you are most likely pestered, bothered, annoyed (feel free to fill in a more colorful descriptive word) by robocalls. Often on a daily basis. Unwanted annoying calls are like a plague.

But it’s not just the calls from telemarketers and such. They become more than annoying when a scammer is on the other line trying to bilk some unsuspecting person out of money. Often would-be prey are trusting seniors who grew up during more innocent times when such crimes did not exist.

Right now is ’tis the season for good will, faith and fellowship. But the holiday season ranks right up there with tax season when it comes to those without scruples or even souls trying to target senior citizens. There is a difference between annoying telemarketers and telescammers who are outright criminals.

According to the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC], The Federal Communications Commission [FCC] says that the number one consumer complaint it consistently receives is for unwanted automated calls. In fact, during the first half of 2018, the number of robocalls increased by at least 50 percent.

According to information provided by AMAC, Ethan Garr, an executive at TelTech, a company that makes one of the many call blocker apps on the market, says that robocalls are cheap. He says it costs just a penny a minute. And, the technology news Web site, Futurism reports that some phone carriers actually kick back micropayments to telemarketers.

Although such payments amount to just a fraction of a penny a call, it adds up considering the fact that the callers are making billions of calls a month. The Robocall Index, which keeps track of automated call frequency, says that more than 5 billion such calls were made in the U.S. just last month, more than double the number of calls made in the same period in 2017. 

Also reported by AMAC, as for the scam calls, just last month police in Pennsylvania arrested a man in connection with a telescam leveled at senior citizens. He was charged with swindling elderly in various parts of the country out of some $400,000. What he allegedly did was to call seniors and tell them that a grandson was in trouble and needed cash immediately. We have actually heard that one before in the Salem area.

Here is an example provided by AMAC: There was the Publishers Clearing House scammer who called a 90-year-old woman in New York earlier this month and conned her out of $20,000 by claiming she had won a PCH prize. 

The problem has gotten so bad that the Federal Trade Commission has created a scam alert that can help consumers avoid fraud, including telephone fraud. It also provides what some might call a “hit parade” of the latest cons.  Automated telephone calls may be annoying, but the statistics show that most them are legitimate sales calls. However, according to AMAC, NBC News recently reported that as many as 40 percent of robocalls in the U.S. are from scammers. That means telescammers are targeting more than 10 billion potential victims a year. 

That is a prodigious number. Many of those victimized are unsuspecting seniors. Regardless of you age, always remember you have the right to slam your phone down. Plain and simple. You won’t get in trouble. Legitimate agencies do not make threatening calls. They do not ask for bank account numbers or for you to go out and buy gift cards to send along before you can claim a “prize.” Crooks thrive during the holiday season. Be careful that you don’t end up on their holiday list. Be a “Scrooge” if you have to when it comes to unwanted calls. You owe such people nothing — especially your time or money.