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How to avoid phone scams

Tips from the Dallas Police Department

Created date

February 20th, 2017
Highland Springs resident Bernie De Roo chats with Dallas police officer Israel Marquez following a presentation by the Dallas Police Department’s Office of Community Affairs about avoiding scams.

Highland Springs resident Bernie De Roo chats with Dallas police officer Israel Marquez following a presentation by the Dallas Police Department’s Office of Community Affairs about avoiding scams.

A little less than a year ago, Bernie De Roo received a phone call from an unknown number.

“The caller told me that my granddaughter Maria, who lives in Cincinnati, had been in a car accident,” says Bernie. “He said Maria was fine, but she had admitted fault in the accident and was being held in jail. The caller told me he had spoken with the judge’s secretary, and the judge would release her if I sent $2,000 worth of Walmart gift cards to the address he provided.”

Bernie’s first instinct was to help his granddaughter. 

“I thought maybe she was embarrassed to tell her parents about the car accident,” says Bernie. “But the more I thought about it, the more the story didn’t add up.”

Bernie called his son and daughter-in-law in Cincinnati to ask about Maria. They assured him Maria was fine and sitting right next to them at home. That’s when Bernie’s son asked for the caller’s number.

“My son was able to trace the number to Canada,” says Bernie. “Thank goodness I didn’t send them anything.”

Bernie’s story is a common one, according to police. Scammers prey on grandparents’ natural instinct to help their grandchildren.

To help seniors identify and avoid potential cons, Highland Springs, the Erickson Living community where Bernie lives, has partnered with the Dallas Police Department’s (DPD) Office of Community Affairs to offer a series of presentations about the most common fraud tactics.

“Scammers use any means they can to get what they want,” warned DPD officers during a recent presentation. “They’re out there preying on people, so it’s smart to be informed about situations you might encounter.”

Here’s a look at some of the most common phone scams and how to avoid them.

IRS scams

Over-the-phone scams are on the rise, including calls from the IRS warning of outstanding debts and threatening arrest.

“The IRS will never call you,” the officers cautioned. “If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS, hang up.”

When dealing with unsolicited phone calls, the officers warned against providing your full name, social security number, or credit card information. 

“Don’t give out any information over the phone if you didn’t initiate the call,” said the officers.

Law enforcement scams

In the same vein, no branch of law enforcement will call and ask for money. If you receive a call from someone claiming to represent the Texas Rangers or the Dallas Police Department, hang up. Law enforcement agencies don’t call to ask for money.

Computer scams

Another common scam involves your computer.

Con artists call unsuspecting targets, saying they represent Microsoft and they’ve detected a virus on the victim’s computer. They’ll offer to fix it remotely if you provide your login information.

DPD officers warn against giving out any sensitive information over the phone. Once the scammers have access to your computer, they’ll lock you out of it.

Health care scams

Fake representatives from health care companies will call and say that your health care is out of date. They’ll say they need to verify your information and ask for your name and social security number. Don’t give it to them.

Friends and family scams

Sometimes crooks will go to great lengths to extort money orders or gift cards, as in Bernie’s case. They’ll troll social media sites, looking for personal information they can use to convince you that a loved one is in danger. Or they’ll scan the obituaries and call the grieving spouse, claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt. Be cautious if you receive a suspicious call.

Be alert, be savvy

As the DPD representatives outlined each scenario above, heads nodded in the crowd at Highland Springs. Several residents, like Bernie, had first-hand experience with many of the scams outlined.

Thankfully, as the number of scams increases, so does education, thanks in part to presentations like those scheduled at Highland Springs.

“We’re pleased to work alongside the Dallas Police Department to educate our residents about potential risks and how to avoid them,” says Highland Springs Community Resources Coordinator Barbara Blachly. “It’s one way we’re working to ensure the safety of those in our community.”