- When you engage with a scammer – even if you are blowing a whistle in the phone – you’ve just confirmed two pieces of information for the scammers: they’ve called a working phone number AND you’ll answer the phone. Why does this matter? Because stealing money from taxpayers is only one part of the equation. Remember that identity theft isn’t just about getting money out of you one time or stealing a tax refund check, it’s an entire industry. Your data typically isn’t getting stolen in one fell swoop: your identity profile is being put together piece by piece. Key bits of information about you may be stored, repackaged and sold from one scammer to the next. The fact that you answered the phone and were willing to engage? That’s valuable to scammers who might try it again later – or sell your number to the highest bidder.
- When you tell scammers to stop calling you, you may inadvertently give out more information about your phone number. When you offer comments like “stop calling my house” or “don’t call me at work” or “this is my cell phone,” you’ve just added to the database. Not only do the scammers know that it’s a good number, and you’ll answer (see #1), you’ve now offered up more details about the number the scammer just called (i.e. it’s your house, workplace or cell number).
- When you tell scammers that you know you don’t owe anything, you might have confirmed your name, that you’re a taxpayer, and worse, possibly your Social Security Number (SSN). Remember, this isn’t some kid calling with a script: these are professional thieves who likely do this for a living.
- When you make threats back, you might be offering valuable “out of wallet” information. It may be tempting to bring out the big guns like “I’ll get you, I’m a lawyer” or “How dare you, my dad is a cop” or “Just wait until my Army husband, Bill, gets home.” But think about what you’ve just said. Yes, more information about yourself. Those additional nuggets are helping form your profile. As law enforcement told me, pieces of data are matched to other data. Suddenly, you’re no longer just a random phone number. You’re Jane Smith, SSN 123-45-6789. You’re a lawyer, and your dad is a cop. You live at 123 Elm Street, Anytown, USA 12345 (since that address matches your phone number). Your spouse’s name is Bill, and he works for the government. That data – especially once it’s been matched with more data which can be found in other places, such as social media sites or from a recent hack – is incredibly valuable.
- You might be breaking the law. But they called you, right? It might not matter. In most states, and according to federal law, you can record phone calls with the consent of just one party to the call. But in 12 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington), you need the consent of both parties to record a call. There are exceptions to these rules for law enforcement investigations, emergency situations, or certain unlawful activities: scammers should fall into the latter category, but the rules aren’t always clear.
- You’re never going to make them feel bad. I know that it makes you feel better to tell off a scammer but at the end of the day, it doesn’t bother them. Understand that these people are thieves. They are preying on vulnerable people – typically the elderly, students, and immigrants – who they can bully.
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