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  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

How To Protect Your Family From Phone Scams

How to educate your senior family members about phone scams

We are heading into the holiday season and I wanted to talk about phone scams. I’m not doing this episode for us being targeted, but because we love someone who will be.

Many older Americans are targeted for phone scams and since we’re about to have a ton of holidays where we get together with family, this is a great time to talk about being safe on the phone. So I really want you to be ready to have the hard conversations with the older members of your family for their safety and financial security.

30 billion

Phone scams are not all the same. While the main goal is voluntarily separate people with their assets like cash or gift cards, they really run the spectrum of manipulation and tactics.

Some will use intimidation, while others impersonate family members, and others play on the kind hearts of empathetic people. And not all phone scams are voice to voice, now text scamming is becoming more popular than calls.

Believe it or not, phone scams are statistically not successful. Scammer call centers will call thousands of people in a 24-hour period and only net a few people who don’t hang up. Then it’s a smaller percentage to get the people who don’t hang up to even comply with the scam. But in that little amount of work, scammers can make big profits.

In 2021, phone scams cost Americans 30 billion dollars. Which is 10 billion more than in 2020. So things are escalating despite the fact that you think most people wouldn't fall for this type of scam.

People 65 and older are generally targeted for phone scams. This is due to many factors, but older people are used to doing business over the phone. Remember that back in the late 1900s this is how we all did business. Also, this age may not be as adept to things like things email and online banking.

Manipulation of Phone Scammers

Of course, technology is being used against people with things like number spoofing. The FCC defines this as when a caller (scammer) deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.

This is done to foster instant credibility of a local number that looks like yours, so you’ll be more likely to answer. And they use real phone numbers. Once my number was spoofed. In one morning I got several phone calls from confused people.

I shared about that before, but I didn’t know what it was the first time it happened. The second time I was able to explain to the people who called me back what was really going on. And scammers will latch on to your number for half a day, make a bunch of calls and move on to a new number. Plus, this is really hard for law enforcement to investigate.

Now let’s get into some popular phone scams so that we can intelligently talk to our loved ones about for their safety.

Popular Phone Scams

The most popular phone scam is the threatening call from the IRS. People are generally afraid to be contacted by the IRS, so scammers are working off of the existing anxiety of most Americans.

The panic that starts for an unsuspecting person will force them into a fight or flight mindset where the ability to critically reason is diminished. And scammers bank on that. They’ll be more successful if they can keep their targets from really thinking about what’s going on.

Scammers in this type of call will be aggressive and threaten jail time if the victim doesn’t comply. Then the victim will backtrack and start to negotiate with the scammer. At this point the scammer will say, okay, you seem like a trustworthy person, let me talk with my supervisor.

Then lo and behold, the fake supervisor has agreed that if the victim pays now, then they’ll avoid jail. Payment can be cash in the mail, gift cards, or something else. And then the victim pays because they don't want to go to jail.

Of course, you are saying why would the IRS needs gift cards or cash in the mail. That’s not how they operate. But under the intense pressure and threats leveled by the scammer, people will look past those details. And just so you know, if you are in trouble with the IRS, they’ll contact you by mail, in person, or through your accountant. A cold call from an IRS agent isn’t how they reach out to you first.

The Gift Card Phone Scam

I have actually witnessed a gift card scam happening in person. My son and I were at a pharmacy when there was a very frantic older woman on her phone, trying to buy gift cards that she had never purchased before.

She was asking a lot of questions to the person on the phone and seemed very nervous. What’s happening at this point is a scammer has manipulated someone into thinking the only way they can pay off whatever debt they supposedly owe is by sending them the codes on the back of a gift card.

No legitimate business is going to work like this and the scammers like to stay on the phone with the victim through the entire process of driving to the store to buy the cards and giving them the numbers so that they don’t come to the realization that they are being scammed.

Not all scammers are going to be after cash or online banking information. So make sure you talk about this with your loved ones so they know that a huge red flag is payment and gift cards.

The Fake Officer Phone Scam

The last one we’ll cover is the fake police detective. Victims will get a call from a serious-sounding police detective who will leave a message asking that someone in the home call them back. They’ll leave very little detail as to why they are calling, which is very detective-like. I’ve seen this one in action, too. Sometimes, the caller will even spoof a legitimate police office phone number.

Once on the phone with the scammer, he’ll say that the call is being recorded as you may expect from a police agency. Then they’ll say something like you missed jury duty or you have an outstanding parking ticket that you failed to appear for and there is now a bench warrant out for your arrest. These are legitimate things that happen, so it seems in the realm of possibility.

The fake cop will offer two choices to fix the situation, you turn yourself into jail or you pay him over the phone.

A red flag here is that you generally don’t pay the police. If you get a parking ticket in the city, it’s issued by the police but you pay the city. If you get a speeding ticket issued by a deputy, you pay the county, not the Sheriff’s office. Also, law enforcement won’t call you over this kind of stuff. They’ll just arrest you the next time you speed.

Frequency of Phone Scams

You may also wonder why your parents or grandparents seem to get more scam calls than anyone else. Well, there is a reason for this.

Scammers will sell their phone lists to other scammers. So if your grandmother talks to a scammer and even if she doesn’t comply, she’s considered a warm lead, and her number will be sold to other scammers and they will start to work on her as well. So if the calls get too bad, you may want to consider having her change her phone number.

These are a few things that I feel everyone needs to know about phone scams. So please bring this up at your next family get-together so that everyone will be more aware.

If you’re not sure how to bring it up, just Google phone scam news, and there will be a bad story that you can use to break the ice. Just say, “Did you hear about that poor man in Austin who lost his life savings to a phone scammer?” And then you’re off to the races.

Watch This Episode - How to Protect Your Family from Phone Scams


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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