BBB serving Mississippi is reporting an increase of phone calls targeting the Hattiesburg area. “ We have been receiving inquiries and complaints from area residents that been offered free government grants, free loan consolidations, or are lottery winners” said John O’Hara of BBB serving Mississippi. “In these free offers there is usually a processing fee or request for personal information that can lead to identity theft.” Each and every day throughout the state, shady operators work the phones to defraud consumers and business owners. Though there’s no way – short of disconnecting your phone – to protect yourself completely from phone scams, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming the next victim. If you receive a phone call from someone who makes threats, tells you that you’ve won a cash prize (or sweepstakes) or demands immediate payment in regards to a debt you’re unfamiliar with, those are all signs the call is likely fraudulent.
If you receive calls like this, or requests for personal information, BBB advises the following:
Don’t panic. If the calls are abusive or if the callers threaten you with arrest, stay calm. Keep in mind that scammers are hoping that you’ll pay them off quickly just to make the matter go away. Always get verification of any alleged debts in writing. Remember, legitimate collection agents cannot threaten you with arrest, and even if you owe a debt, you still have rights through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Never give out any financial information, such as your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone.
Be realistic. You can’t win a lottery or contest you didn’t enter, and if you have to pay money upfront to receive your “winnings,” you haven’t won anything.
Think about what you’re being told. If a caller claims to be with your bank or your credit card company and wants your account information so they can verify it, they aren’t telling the truth; your bank and your credit card company already have this information.
Listen closely. If the caller uses poor grammar and/or has a heavy accent, be on alert. Many fraudulent calls originate overseas.
Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call or ask the caller to call back later, after you’ve had time to research their claims.
Don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses.
Another thing to be aware of is that these calls may be originating from overseas and people who return these calls don’t realize they’re calling international numbers – with normal-looking prefixes such as 473, 809, 876, 284 and 268 – in the Caribbean, where charges can add up quickly. If you receive a call from an unknown number, it’s best to ignore it and let it go to voicemail.