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Voicemails threaten arrest, but they’re a scam: Money Matters

August 22, 2018

Voicemails threaten arrest, but they’re a scam: Money Matters

Q: Please help me report this to authorities. Yesterday at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., I received voicemails on my AT&T mobile phone from a number with a New York City area code. The voicemails were very disturbing, instructing me to “reply within 24 working hours” regarding “four serious allegations pressed on your name” with authority to “take under custody by local police.”

I’m fairly confident I don’t have any outstanding allegations against me.

Who can I report this to?

L.M., Lakewood

A: I don’t mean to diminish your outrage about these phone calls, but they happen all of the time. That doesn’t make it OK. And you should absolutely report them. But you shouldn’t take it quite as personally as you seem to be.

It’s clear this is an attempted scam of some sort, and you recognize that. It’s apparent the caller or whomever wrote the script doesn’t have a good command of the English language. The fraudsters would probably try to shake you down for money through a wire transfer or iTunes gift cards or some such nonsense to settle the “serious allegations.”

It’s unfortunate that some small percentage of these calls produce income for the bad guys. If the calls didn’t sometimes work, the fraudsters wouldn’t keep making them. Fraud from unwanted phone calls costs consumers about $9.5 billion annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here’s what I recommend:

Report robocalls or any unwanted calls to the FTC by calling 1-888-382-1222 or 1-877-382-4357 (877-FTC-HELP) or go to: complaints.donotcall.govReport a call that appears to be a scam by going to https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/GettingStarted?NextQID=216&Selected=t#crntIn Ohio, to report a call that’s a scam, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioProtects.orgLocally, report scam calls to the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad at 216-443-7226 (216-443-SCAM). Outside of Cuyahoga County, scam calls can also be reported to your local Better Business Bureau.

In some cases, authorities are able to track down the scam artists and prosecute. For example, the FTC has filed 100-plus lawsuits against more than 600 companies responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and violations of the Do Not Call list.

In other cases, even if the offenders aren’t caught, the volume of complaints helps authorities warn other consumers about trends going on out there, like the scams targeting grandparents, unemployed people, people applying for school grants, etc.

The FTC got 4.5 million complaints about unwanted calls last year.

For the future, you should register your landline or cell number with the federal Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222. This will not stop the phone calls. It will help you recognize that anyone who violates it is almost surely bad news because they’re already knowingly breaking the law. Legitimate businesses generally obey the Do Not Call Registry.

Also, when you go to report the calls to authorities, you’re probably going to be asked whether you’re on the Do Not Call list.

Q: I wanted to let you know about a scam (or a scam that I believed was about to happen) that appeared on our computer this week.

We were on our computer looking up something and suddenly our computer went all red and a security alarm came on the screen with a voice saying that our computer was locked because someone was trying to steal our identity and that we needed to call a specific toll-free number to unlock our computer and do not try to turn the computer off as we would then lose all data.

I kept turning the computer on and off and the screen and voice would not go away! We left the computer off for the night and in the morning everything was fine and the message was gone! What a scare! Has this happened to anyone else?

D.F., North Royalton

The pop-up messages that someone’s computer has been hijacked or compromised are rampant. We will find out about your question: Has anyone else been targeted by this or a variation of this scam? How long did it take or what did you do to get rid of the intrusive message?
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