Don't get scammed by telephone crooks, some advice from Shaler

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John Sweeney of Shaler recognizes a scam when he hears one.

And he knows what to do to prevent identity theft.

Mr. Sweeney, 80, received a call last month from a man “who mumbled his name” and told him his “account had been blocked.”

What account?

“Mumbles” didn’t say.

He told Mr. Sweeney to press 1 on his phone to unlock his “blocked” account or press 2 to “leave it as is.”

When the man asked for his 16 digit account number, Mr. Sweeney knew the scammer was looking for a credit or debit card number and hung up the phone. He went straight to the PNC Bank in Millvale and reported his call from “Mumbles.”

“They said it was a fraud,” he said.

Mr. Sweeney called his daughter, Leslie Nearhoof of Mars, gave her the caller’s phone number — it had an Oregon area code — and asked her to call Verizon “to alert them about all this.”

She did.

“I just thought you’d like to let your readers know about this scam,” Mr. Sweeney said when we spoke. “These crooks come up with something new all the time.”

Yes, they do.

“We see a wide range of scams that can have a direct impact on [our customers],” the company said on its website. “We have dedicated resources working to investigate, track and, where possible, resolve issues that occur as a result of scams.

“Through news releases, bill inserts and a new page on our corporate website, we can quickly alert [customers] with information on how to avoid being victimized.”

In addition to updated information on the latest Internet and phone scams, consumers will find reports on current scams and tips on how to protect themselves.

Here’s a brief description of a few telephone scams:

Jury duty

Individuals claiming to be federal court employees tell victims they have been selected for jury duty. They ask the victims to verify their names and Social Security numbers and then ask for credit card numbers. If the victim refuses, the caller tells them they will be fined or prosecuted for “failing to comply” with jury duty.

Verizon said federal courts don’t require anyone to provide personal information on the phone. It said the federal courts use the mail to contact prospective jurors.

If you get such a call, alert the FBI. It is a crime for people to falsely represent themselves as a federal court official.

Collect calling

Victims receive a call from an operator asking them to accept an urgent collect call. Although most people won’t accept such calls if they don’t recognize the caller’s name, some do because they think it might be from a relative or friend who is in trouble. If they accept the call, they will be billed for the charges.

Verizon tells consumers never to accept a collect call from someone they don’t know. If consumers are unsure about the legitimacy of such calls, they should ask the operator to ask the caller a few questions to determine the caller’s identity.

Calling card number theft

Crooks posing as a telephone company employee call victims and ask them for their calling card number for “verification purposes.” Don’t tell them. Verizon and other major telephone companies already have it.

And be careful when entering your calling card number. Someone may be watching. Use your body to block their view. Verizon advises consumers to stop entering their number if they suspect someone nearby is eavesdropping or watching.

Third number billing

Victims receive calls from telephone operators who ask if the charges for a call ostensibly being made by someone they know can be placed on their phone bill.

“Ask questions and be suspicious,” Verizon said. “Never accept the charges unless you are absolutely certain you know the person.”

Social engineering

Verizon said it uses this generic wording to describe crooks who try to convince their victims that they are legitimate individuals in an attempt to obtain critical personal information.

It said a “classic example” of this scam occurred a few years ago and involved people who called their victims and claimed to be Verizon representatives. The crooks said the victims had overpaid their last phone bill and needed some personal information, such a Social Security number, to process a refund check.

“Be suspicious and ask questions,” Verizon said. “Ask for a callback number.” It said major telephone companies automatically apply overpayments to their customers’ next bill. They have no need to call their customers to do that.

Information: (type telephone scams in the search box).

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at and 412-263-1488. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.

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