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There are many, many types of phone scame and we will go over a few, but all of them have just a few things in common which will allow you to spot them if you pay close attention.  I'm not going to lie, though, it's sometimes tough to spot a scam even when you do know what to look for.  If you're not sure, assume it's a scam until it's proved otherwise.

We are going to start out by covering some basic tips on what to look for to determine if a call is a scam.  There are some very basic things which are common to almost all phone scams.

The most prevelant recurring theme in phone scams is a sense of urgency.  The call will make you nervous and make you feel as if you need to do something right away.  There is a level of skill involved with this type of scammer.  An amateur scammer will directly impress a sense of emergency on you such as by telling you it needs to be taken care of right away or threatening you if you don't take care of it, usually with arrest or some other legal action.  An expert scammer, however, will never directly say that it's urgent.  They will use terms which suggest urgency subtly.

In one such scam the caller will claim to be a relative, a nephew, grandchild, etc., who is in some legal trouble or is stuck in some foreign country and has just been robbed.  They need money to secure their freedom or get back home.  These scammers often seem to know a bit about their victim.  They may give the actual name of a relative they are claiming to be.  Ask yourself how well you know this relative.  Do you recognize their voice on the phone?  Does it make sense that they are where they claim to be and in the trouble they claim to be in?  Does it make sense that they called you instead of a parent?  Don't be afraid to ask them some questions to confirm who they are.  And if you do that, make sure it's questions that a scammer could not know the answer to by following the Facebook pages of several family members.  After all, they got information about you somehow, right?  Maybe they did a public records search.  And maybe they know the nickname you use for their mother because she uses it on Facebook.  Make it something which isn't public knowledge.

In another, even more subtle type of scam the caller will give you a phone number to call and a "Case number".  They don't want anything from you, you just need to call a phone number to see what it's about.  This is a more complex scam usually carried out by people who know what they're doing.  This type of scammer will never tip his hand that he is scamming you, being as vague as possible.  The point here is to get you to call the number and there may be several reasons for that.  In the past this scam has been used to get people to call 800 numbers which not only were not free, they charged huge amounts of money.  Or they could be putting you into the right maindrame for the next person you talk to who continues the scam from a different angle.  This type of scammer will often use official sounding but vague terms like "compliance officer" or covertly threatening terms like "deliver the papers".  They will never actually give you any information.  In some cases they may actually be calling you to deliver a message for someone else to call the number.  This is particularly sly on their part.  Even if you're wary of getting scammed, YOU don't have to call the number, you just have to deliver a message.  In this way the create a sense of urgency in you while not putting you on guard.  When you deliver the message the other person trusts you.  They know YOU are not scamming them.  That leaves them with a sense of curiosity.  What is this about?

This type of scam is often pulled by shady bill collectors.  They are usually trying to collect debt too old to take legal action on, debt owed by someone else or, in some cases, completely made up debt.  This is very common with payday lender debt.  They will try to collect that from literay ANYONE they can.  In one case I saw a customer sent bank records to prove that they never got a payday loan deposited into their account, so the debt collector stopped calling.  Then they sold the debt and 2 or 3 years later a DIFFERENT debt collector tried to collect the same debt which this customer already proved wasn't theirs!  This new collector demanded that it be proved AGAIN.

Let's face it, everyone forgets things now and then.  If someone walked up to you out of the blue and told you that you owed a debt you didn't pay very few of us would be absolutely certain that wasn't true.  If you've ever been to the emergency room or hospital you know that you get a thousand bills from a thousand different departments.  In some cases I have seen the bills not come for a full year.  It is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to know with absolute certainty that you have paid all the bills involved with a hospital stay.  That's why this type of scam works so well.  If we owe something and we care about our credit and our commitments there is a definite sense of urgency in getting delinquent bills paid immediately.

When faced with a call from someone you don't know there are a few things to look out for and a few things you can do to determine if it might be a scam.

First, as I mentioned, ask yourself "Does this call give me a sense of urgency or make me nervous or scared?"  If the answer is yes there is a high probability that it's a scam.

Next, don't be afraid to ask questions, even if they're just asking you to deliver a message to someone else.  No, you don't have a right to know what bills Suzie didn't pay, but if you're going to deliver a message to her then you DO have a right to know who it's from and, in fact, you have a duty to your friends and family to confirm the call is legitimate before delivering that message.  A legitimate caller will not have an aversion to giving you their name and the name of the company or organization they work for.  If someone is calling you from a legitimate business or government agency they have no reason not to tell you what business or agency.  Look for answers which are too vague or subtly threatening.  If you ask what company they work for and the response is "I am the compliance officer in your area.  I am the one who will be delivering the papers", that is a serious red flag.  Compliance officer tells you nothing.  It's a generic term.  And what papers, exactly?  Ask them.  Also ask them, "What area are you responsible for?"  If they're the "compliance officer in your area" they should know what area that is.  If they evade the answers, can't answer immediately without taking a moment (to Google it) or try to end the call by telling you just to call the number or deliver the message then it is a scam.