You’re not imagining it—fake robocalls are on the rise. In fact, according to one 2018 report, fake automated calls reached an estimated 3.4 billion people in just one month, which was an increase of almost 900 million a month from the year before. “In general, phone scams have increased with the availability of voice-over-IP phone systems,” said Chris Parker, founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com. “They allow callers anywhere in the world to make mass phone calls at almost no cost.”
One particularly popular type of call these days is a telephone scam commonly referred to as “fake lawsuit phone calls,” where the scammer threatens you with jail time or a lawsuit if you don’t pay them the money they demand. While the savvy consumer may be onto these types of scammer scare tactics, it’s still unnerving to receive such a call. Here’s what you need to know the next time you receive a fake lawsuit phone call, or any other scam phone call asking for money or personal information.
What are fake lawsuit phone calls?
The fake lawsuit scam is having a moment. In fact, Parker recalls having received several of these calls in the past year himself. During the call, the scammer likely claims a lawsuit has been filed against you and a summons or arrest warrant has been issued. The scammer then says the issue can be settled or avoided by making a payment. “They use high-pressure scare tactics to get the person so alarmed that they are willing to send money,” Parker said.
What are examples of fake lawsuit scams?
While there are a number of different examples of scams like the fake lawsuit scam, the intent is always the same—either to steal your money outright or to steal your personal information, which is then used to steal your money. Phone scams can come in any form, from a real person on the other line to a recorded message or a text message. The scammer may ask for personal details or threaten jail time or an impending lawsuit if you don’t pay up for some fictitious infraction. Common approaches to fake lawsuit calls include people suggesting that they are calling on behalf of the IRS, Social Security Administration, debt collectors or other government agencies. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these are some more creative types of fake phone calls:
- Travel companies: They often offer free or low-cost vacations that either cost a lot more in hidden fees or aren’t legitimate.
- Charities: Unfortunately, we live in a time when even goodwill is exploited. These types of scams spike on the coattails of natural disasters and the holidays.
- Car warranties: A scammer simply needs to know what kind of car you have in order to call and offer you overpriced, unnecessary and often worthless extended plans.
- Utility companies: Parker recently dealt with this type of call, wherein someone using a forged caller ID (similar to a restricted call) rang him and claimed to be from his utility company. They insisted that he hadn’t paid his electric bill and threatened to shut off his power unless he paid up.
How can I protect myself from fake lawsuit scams?
Knowledge is the first step when it comes to guarding yourself against these kinds of calls. These are usually the giveaways that a caller is trying to scam you, according to Parker:
- The caller doesn’t have your name, account number or billing address.
- You haven’t received a written notice in the mail from the company this person claims to be calling from.
- The call is coming from an agency that simply does not make collection calls, such as the IRS.
- The urgency with which the person wants you to fulfill the request is overkill. If the issue needs to be resolved right then on the phone, it’s probably not real.
- The person only accepts unusual types of payments, such as gift cards, prepaid credit cards or wire transfers.
While there’s no way to avoid having your number targeted, Parker suggests ignoring calls from phone numbers not in your contacts list. If you do end up speaking to the caller, ask them to send you a written notice of the “lawsuit” (or other complaint) to the address they have on record. Never provide your personal information or confirm any information they may already have. You can also always perform a reverse phone search to try and get more information about a caller before deciding how or whether to respond. If you suspect you’ve been contacted by a fraudster, you can report the scam to the FTC online or call 1-877-382-4357.