Scams committed over the phone are quite prevalent in Mississippi. Scammers contact unsuspecting persons and attempt to mislead, defraud, and harass them. With the advancement of technology, it has become easy for scammers to impersonate legitimate entities such as government agencies and reputable businesses that the targets are familiar with. These scammers sometimes impersonate the family members or close contacts of the target to erase any suspicion while carrying out their fraudulent schemes. Usually, scammers’ fraudulent schemes involve stealing money, valuables, or sensitive information that will be used to defraud or implicate the target. Phone scammers contact their targets through live calls, pre-recorded robocalls, emails, and text messages. Individuals can use phone lookup services on mobile applications or websites to determine a call’s source.
In Mississippi, victims of phone scams or persons that believe they are being targeted by phone scammers can report to the Mississippi Public Service Commission by calling (601)-961-5434. Phone scams can also be reported by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The Mississippi Office of the State Auditor also provides Mississippians with information on where to report different scams. Some common phone scams in Mississippi include:
- Charity scams - Here, fraudsters claim to be representatives of charity organizations in order to take advantage of the public’s generosity. These persons sometimes capitalize on prevalent disasters and tragedies happening in the state.
- Emergency scam - Here, a scammer impersonates a close contact of the caller and calls, claiming to be in dire need of money for an emergency, such as hospital bills.
- Pyramid and Ponzi schemes - Here, the scammer markets a Ponzi or Pyramid scheme that requires a constant flow of new members to keep the scheme going. They introduce these schemes as legitimate marketing programs involving many levels. During the early stage, new members’ “investments” are used to pay “profits” to the existing members. These pyramid schemes eventually fail when the current members cannot recruit more members.
- Arrest (threaten) - This involves fraudsters impersonating local law enforcement agents and threatening to arrest their targets if they do not pay a particular amount of money.
- Bank scams - This involves phone scammers attempting to access an individual’s bank account by impersonating the target’s account officer to get their financial information.
- Investment scams - This involves scammers contacting their targets to inform them of bogus investment opportunities that supposedly have high-profit rates and no financial risk. These offers always seem too good to be true and can be considered a potential scam. Do not invest without doing a proper research on the offer.
- Lotteries and sweepstakes - The scammer offers fake winning lottery tickets and sweepstakes, but demands that the target pays a certain amount of money to process them.
What Are IRS Scams?
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scams refer to scams involving fraudsters who impersonate IRS officials with the aim of defrauding unsuspecting persons of their hard-earned money. Usually, these scams become more prevalent during the tax season, where fraudsters take advantage of the anxiety that comes with the season. IRS scammers make their targets believe they owe back taxes and threaten that they will be arrested and legal action will be taken against them if funds are not wired immediately. These scammers may also call, demanding their targets’ financial information by claiming to need it to process payment for a refund. Mississippians should be wary of such calls, and if they receive any suspicious calls where the caller claims to be from the IRS, they should use phone lookup services to identify the call’s source.
Note that the IRS never calls to request immediate payment over the phone or ask for the recipient’s PIN, password, or personal financial information. If you suspect any IRS related scam, report the case by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and specifying “IRS Telephone Scam” in the comments of the filed complaint.
What Are Grandparents Scams?
Grandparents scams are usually targeted at elderly persons, and they involve the scammer impersonating a relative of the target, most likely a grandchild, pretending to be in trouble. The scammer may claim to need financial help urgently. Grandparents scams may also involve a law enforcement officer or the relative's attorney, making the call on behalf of the relative, asking for money transfers via Western Union or MoneyGram. Persons who find themselves in this situation should ask the caller questions that can only be answered by the person the scammer is impersonating or claiming to represent. Targeted persons can also contact a relative or a close friend of the person the scammer claims to be to confirm if it is a scam.
What Are Social Security Administration Phone Scams?
Social Security Administration (SSA) phone scams involve scammers impersonating employees of the Social Security Administration. These scammers contact individuals, making them believe that their social security numbers have been suspended because their social security numbers have been involved in a crime or because of other suspicious activities. They will then tell the target to confirm their social security numbers to reactivate it. Individuals who receive any suspicious call in this manner should hang up immediately and not follow the caller’s directives.
It should be noted that the Social Security Administration (SSA) never calls to request payment over the phone or ask for the call recipient’s PIN, password, or personal financial information.
What Are Government Grant Scams
This involves scammers contacting individuals and deceiving them to make certain payments to get grants for their businesses, college education, or home repairs. These scammers sometimes request the call recipient’s checking account details, saying they need it to withdraw a ‘one-time processing fee’ or pay the grant into the call recipient’s bank account. The scammers defraud the call recipients and withdraw huge sums of money from their accounts instead of depositing the grant or withdrawing a ‘one-time processing fee.’
Note that the government scarcely ever awards grants to random individuals; instead, grants are mostly awarded to universities, local communities, and other organizations to help pay for research and projects that the public will benefit from.
How Do I Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phone Scam?
- Avoid disclosing any personal or financial information to a caller over the phone - Legitimate organizations, such as banks and utility companies, never request a client’s personal and financial information over the phone. Hang up as soon as a caller tries to persuade you into disclosing sensitive information.
- Be alert when receiving calls - Even if the number is familiar, still take caution because scammers use caller ID spoofing to impersonate close contacts of their targets. Know that scammers target almost everyone; if you suspect any call, verify the caller’s ID with a phone lookup service.
- Sign up on the Do Not Call Registry - Sign up to restrict unsolicited calls by registering on the No-Call List online on the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MSPSC) website or by calling the toll free number 1-86NOCALLMS (1-866-622-5567). You can also register on the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce unsolicited calls.
- Report suspected phone scams - Mississippians can report suspected phone scams to the Mississippi Public Service Commission by calling (601)-961-5434 or by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Avoid accepting offers over the phone without careful consideration - Resist the urge to accept offers or make purchase decisions over the phone without critically weighing your options and doing research. Scammers mostly pressure their targets to make quick decisions by making them believe that the offer is only available for a short period.
- Hang up the call if the caller does not reveal their identity - A caller hiding their identity is suspicious. Ensure they disclose their true identity by asking questions. If they hesitate to give a detailed introduction of themselves, or give a vague introduction, hang up immediately.
- Refrain from connecting to free unprotected Wi-Fi in public places - Scammers sometimes use this to access users’ personal information; avoid this.
- Do not answer robocalls - Avoid answering robocalls and if you unintentionally answer them, hang up as soon you realize what they are and do not follow the directives given during the call.
- Use a reverse phone lookup service to determine the actual ID suspicious telephone numbers.