Coronavirus: Scam calls on the rise

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The U.S. government says scam calls are on the rise since the coronavirus pandemic began. The Federal Trade Commission is reporting it has received more than 130,000 complaints relating to COVID-19.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare spoke with several people this week who have recently received calls from fraudsters.

The calls received by two couples who contacted Dare were from “spoofed” phone numbers designed to trick the caller ID system. With so many people stuck at home because of the virus, often, there is no one to talk to during the day.

And, if you have an answering machine, instead of listening to the call, we have a tendency to pick up the phone just to talk with someone. More recently, lots of those calls are from fraudsters.

In Maryville, Peggy Jones received a call from somebody she thought was with her internet provider the other day; except it was a scammer who was not from the company.

“They said they are from AT&T. I said, ‘I don’t have a problem with my internet.’ She said, ‘you could lose a lot of your channels’ and all that,” Jones said.

Peggy and her boyfriend Chris Bernstein have several calls from fraudsters over the last few days.

“I got a call from Social Security, that there was a problem with our social security, he didn’t ask from my name. It said press one to speak to an agent,” Bernstein said.

Out of curiosity, Bernstein said he hit number one on his phone.

“He asked me if I would provide my social security number to verify who I am. I said, ‘no, I am not going to give you my number.’ I said ‘as a matter of fact, Social Security don’t call you on the phone, therefore this is a scam and I’m going to report you’ and I heard, ‘click.'”

“They introduced themselves, they’re with AT&T. Didn’t give a name or anything, just said they’re with AT&T,” Jannette Dabney said.

Jannette Dabney and her husband Tim live in Rocky Top. Their internet provider is with AT&T.
But the live person on the phone was not from the giant telecommunications company.

“They wanted to, something about doing something with the channel thing. That’s when I told them my husband handled this kind of stuff,” Jannette Dabney said.

“They were going to do an upgrade on my television,” Tim Dabney said, who then asked them how much and, “They were going to refer me to another person. I got suspicious and hung up.”

However, the scammer was persistent and called back. Again, Mrs. Dabney picked up the phone.

“He asked me what happened, why it hung up. I said, I don’t know. I told him, I said, it doesn’t say AT&T on this call and he hung up on me,” Jannette Dabney said.

Consumer advocates say the call that Tim Dabney received, the one that Peggy Jones got, and the so-called Social Security agent who contacted Chris Bernstein are from scammers looking to capitalize on a major event like the pandemic.

The FTC says at a time like this it’s important to keep your guard up. They also advise:

  • Hang up on robocalls, don’t press one to speak to an agent.
  • Pay no attention to someone claiming they’re from the government, like Social Security or the IRS.
  • If instructed to send money by way of a gift card, walk away.

A tech company out of California that keeps track of robo-calls on a monthly basis reports there are 111,000,000 robo-calls every day made across the country. That’s a lot of calls, most of them by scammers and they make a lot of money.

The credit reporting agency Trans Union said in a recent report that 9% of people in the United States have been victimized by fraud since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

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