Is it time to add your teenager to your family's cell phone plan? Are you looking to make changes to your individual plan? Do you still predominantly use landlines because of where you live, package deals, or comfort level? Whatever your current telephone situation, having a telephone service or plan that is reasonable, affordable, and convenient makes all the difference in your busy life.

Another important and sometimes overlooked aspect of selecting a service provider is to consider how you will safeguard yourself or your family from telephone scams. A recent study identified mass media scams as a major international crime that costs consumer billions of dollars and put them at risk for physical and psychological harm.

Scammers have developed and adopted very sophisticated ways of defrauding consumers, and telephone scams still make the list. This type of financial exploitation includes intentional and purposeful strategies to deceive consumers into turning over money or property. This has devastating effects on health and well-being. Not only do consumers suffer financial loss, they also may feel emotional betrayal or experience deeper mental health concerns. People may call pretending to be a long-lost relative, debt collector, the IRS, Social Security, a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity, a prize giveaway agency, or others. The techniques they use may push a fear factor, 'tug at your heartstrings' or emphasize financial gain. For example, you get a call about taxes you owe and the penalties that are going into effect if you don't make a payment today, or you received a phone call from a granddaughter you have never spoken asking you to wire her money or she'll be homeless tomorrow. So, what would you do?

Verify, verify, verify!

  • It is possible that you do have a granddaughter who is going through a tough time and really needs help, but before you make any decisions, talk to other family members or friends.
  • For calls from debt collection agencies or governmental agencies, know that harassment is illegal and these agencies have protocols they have to follow. Ask for the caller's name, the name of the agency, the agency's address and telephone number, the amount owed, and the name of the creditor from which you borrowed. Or, you could kindly say that you will call them back, but do not use the number they provided or called you on, find the contact information (e.g. on the agency's legitimate website or call your local information service) and when you call, let them know about the call you received.

Protection

  • Some telephone service providers now offer call protection. For example, they screen calls and a scam ID pops up that shows that the incoming call is a possible scam. This means that you can block that number. There are also protections that allow you to identify any caller's name, types of organization, and location. Check your provider to see which services are available to you at no or little cost.
  • The Federal Free Trade Commission has information on how to sign up for the Do Not Call Registry to stop sales calls. While this registry does not block all unwanted calls, it stops sales calls and holds companies accountable when reports show violations. You may register up to three phone numbers in one registration, and for more than three, you would need to go through the registration process again. This is important for family-style telephone plans. If you have multiple people (e.g. parents and children) on a plan, you can shield yourselves from sales call or fraud disguised as a sales call.
  • What do you do to safeguard against unwanted calls? What community or school resources are available for you and your family? I still screen my calls and let it go to voicemail. If an unfamiliar phone number is calling me multiple times and not leaving a message then I might look into blocking that number. Caller ID is amazing and I make it a personal rule not to answer incoming calls that shows that the caller is Unknown.

In summary, anyone can become a target for fraud or other types of financial exploitation. Telephone scams are still widespread. If you haven't done so already, find out from your telephone service providers about any free or low-cost options to protect against fraud.