Palm Beach County residents are getting calls that seem to be from their own cell number. Received one of these? A reporter and his son did.
A recorded message that purports to be from AT&T says an account has been compromised and asks people to punch in the last four digits of their social security number.
It’s just confusing and disconcerting enough to throw some folks off balance. They may wonder if only a phone company could call them from their own number, so there might be something to it.
Don’t respond. Hang up. It’s a scam to gather information that could be used to plunder accounts or steal your identity.
“These calls are not from AT&T,” said company spokeswoman Kelly Starling. “If any company calls you and asks for your personal information, that is a red flag. One of our tips on our new Cyber Aware website is never give such information to someone who calls you. Call the company at the number found on your bill. You can read more helpful tips for all consumers at www.att.com/cyberaware.”
The call appears to be from your own phone number through a technological trick called “spoofing.” This is how scammers appear to be calling from the IRS or from across town in other ploys. That is why, unfortunately, you can’t take the caller ID at face value 100 percent of the time.
Your own number on the caller ID is a relatively new twist, though reports started popping up in other states in recent months. It’s also a sure sign of trouble. Real phone companies don’t do this.
Yes, there really is a legitimate Publishers Clearing House that has awarded more than $225 million in cash and prizes so far, and that makes the company’s name a target for scammers.
A 92-year-old Boynton Beach woman received a letter in April claiming she won $5 million that she would share with two other people. She called the phone number on the letter claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House and was told to go to the bank and open a savings account, ostensibly so the winnings could be placed there.
That began her journey as a victim.
The con artist also instructed her that if anyone at the bank suspected there was a problem with her opening the new account, she was to lie and say everything was fine.
The rest of the story, told to the Palm Beach Post by the victim’s daughter, is easy enough to guess. More than $20,000 was siphoned out of her bank accounts.
In a bizarre twist, the elderly woman, who still drives, also purchased five computers at Best Buy and mailed them to Canada. Again, this was what the con artist told her to do and was somehow a “charitable donation.”
She kept all of this a secret from her children, the daughter said, because she wanted to surprise them with the winnings.
Publishers Clearing House offers these five ways to know if an offer is from the real PCH or is a scam:
If you’re required to wire or pay any amount of money in order to claim a prize, it’s a scam.
If you’re asked to load up a Green Dot MoneyPak or other money transfer card in exchange for claiming your prize, it’s a scam. PCH will never ask you to pay a cent to collect a prize. And it won’t ask you to open a new bank account either.
If someone tries to contact you in advance regarding a prize delivery, it’s a scam. PCH shows up at your door with that gigantic check. You may have seen such prize delivery events in PCH’s TV ads.
If someone calls you on the phone claiming to be from PCH, it’s a scam. Do not give them any personal information!
If someone claiming to be from PCH tries to send you a friend request on Facebook, it’s a scam.
What’s the moral of this story?
First of all, pay attention to the real Publishers Clearing House’s advice. Second, if you have elderly parents, warn them about such scams.
Take responsibility and consider taking over your parents’ financial affairs or at least becoming closely involved before they are victimized, whether it’s by a sweepstakes scam or an unscrupulous home repair company.
And if you’re elderly, learn the signs of scams. Don’t do what an unknown person tells you to do and don’t keep secrets from bank employees and your family. Never give out personal information to anyone.