It's an Unknown Caller, What Do You Do?

Deanna Johnson

August 15, 2019

 

Everyone has at least one. If it is not attached to your hip, then it is at least in the same room as you. For many young adults and business professionals, our lives depend on them. They have evolved from antiques attached to the wall with a wheel for dialing into the party line to a device that takes commands just by voice recognition. If you have not guessed by now, it is a cell phone. In the United States alone, there are over 300 million cell phone users. Know what that means? It means that there are over 300 million opportunities for scammers and con artists to take advantage of individuals. Your tax accountant is no exception.

Allman Johnson has an office cell phone that is constantly used to communicate with our tech savvy clients and partners. Just like any other mobile device, we receive calls from numbers that look familiar but are not. Con artists have become so creative that they are now able to use caller IDs that resemble phone numbers from our surrounding area. Generally, most people these days let unknown numbers go to voice mail with the thought of, “Well, if it is important, they will leave a message.”. But what about small business owners and entrepreneurs who can’t afford to miss a call?

About half of all phone calls made are expected to be scam or robocalls. Yet, as a small business owner, any unknown number could be our next Golden Egg and we cannot afford to assume that they will leave a message. More than likely, they will just hang up and call the next business in their Google search. So, what do we do? We pick up the phone and answer “Hello, Allman Johnson CPAs, Deanna speaking. What can I do for you?” just to hear “Hello. Don’t hang up, this is Amanda with Hotel ABC. You have been selected to win a free vacation! Please press one for more details.” CLICK. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  We all know, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s not. But what if the person on the other end sounds serious and legitimate? What if it is a government agency trying to get hold of you, like the IRS or Department of Social Security? Unfortunately, a handful of Americans can’t tell the difference between a legitimate call and a scam call.

Every week there is a story circulating on the news, at the coffee shop or around the break room about the latest scam call. It is scary to think that there are bored individuals sitting around constantly dialing random phone numbers with hopes a gullible person is going to pick up. Con artists are portraying themselves as false government agents and calling taxpayers telling them they owe taxes or that their social security number has been suspended. It usually involves a threat along the lines of, if you do not call back and pay what is owed within a certain time frame, you will be thrown in jail. If you are not in tune and aware of how the IRS works you would most likely be concerned and presumably not have 48 hours of free time to consult a tax professional before thinking you are going to be shipped off to the Slammer. So, what do you do? You call the number back and provide all the information they ask for just to prevent going to jail! After hanging up you think, “Glad I worked that out. I’m not going to prison and I got my taxes sorted out for the year.” WRONG. Now, this example might seem like a stretch, but someone’s grandma out there has fallen for this. Scammers have found a way to scare people into thinking they are in trouble using scenarios that seem real. But how much of these threats are legitimate?

Just a couple weeks ago our office cell phone received a call from a 317 number. After answering the call, the voice recording on the other end announced that they were the “Department of Social Security Administration”. The message continued to disclose, “the reason you have received this phone call from our department is to inform you that we just suspended your social security number because we found some suspicious activity. So, if you want to know about it, just press 1. Thank You.”. It literally said that. Listen to the recording attached to hear how authentic it sounded until the very last sentence. Now, if the call came to my personal cell phone and was not aware of such scams, I might be dialing 1 and spilling my guts on all my personal confidential information thinking it was real. But luckily, I’m aware that the IRS and Department of Social Security Administration does not make calls to citizens. It is sad, but even your own tax accountant’s office is not immune to the fraudulent IRS and Social Security calls.

It is our responsibility to inform you, our clients, of potential risks of the ever-growing peril you may face when it comes to the security of your personal information along with providing ways to protect yourself. Unfortunately, the market for scammers is an ever growing one and in order to stay ahead of the game you must be aware and know how our government agencies communicates with its' citizens. Below are things that the IRS, Department of Social Security and other government agencies would never do:

  • Call you to demand an immediate payment
  • Demand that you pay a debt without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount due
  • Require a specific form of payment like a prepaid debit card, credit card or for the love a gift card
  • Call you in reference to an outstanding balance or discrepancy, unless you called them first
  • Ask you for personal information, credit card or debit card numbers over the phone
  • Threaten to have you arrested or deported if demands are not met
  • Suspend your social security number
  • Ask you to vacate your home immediately

Receiving frustrating scam or unsolicited calls is inevitable. The easiest way to handle unsolicited calls or scams is to simply hang up. The younger generations will never understand the satisfaction of screaming, “There!” while slamming the receiver into the cradle when hanging up an old land line. The current technology used to make robo-scam calls is so inexpensive and accessible to make that the market will continue to grow. There are clearly enough individuals who fall victim to fuel this growth. In addition to hanging up, there are additional tips and tricks that can be done when faced with imbecile phone scammers.

  • Register your personal number on the FREE National Do Not Call Registry – 1-800-382-1222
  •  Don’t pick up the phone for unknown numbers. If it’s truly important they will leave a message.
  • Never say “Yes”. During suspicious calls don’t respond to any questions with “yes” or provide any personal information. A recording of your responses can be used to grant fraudulent permissions.
  • The IRS, Social Security and DMV are not calling you. Government officials and departments will only reach out to you through the mail via the United States Postal Service, unless you’ve contacted them first.

The best way to protect you and your personal information is to be aware and proactive. Stay up to date on current scams circulating around. Know what to look for. A voice recording or automated message, grammatical errors in the conversation or technological glitches during the message, could all be clues indicating the call is not legitimate. Listen to the recording of the scam call our own office recieved, it is posted to our social media pages! Can you pick out some of the red warning flags? The more you know today, the better you’ll be tomorrow. Don’t hesitate to contact us about any suspicious emails, voice mail or letters that may be “from” the IRS. We can help determine what’s fraudulent and what’s real to help keep you and your business protected and prepared.

 

 

 

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