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Just Hang Up!

Seems like every day we hear about some new telephone or Internet scam — and, in the “one born every day” department, some poor soul falls for a convincing patter. Check out this story: A crook claiming to be from Apple cons a woman into forking over almost two grand from her bank account, claiming that someone had been trying to hack her phone.

She falls for his tale, follows his instructions — even after she questions his authenticity — and loses $1,980.98. Then, incredibly, her bank refuses to refund the stolen money on the grounds that she willingly paid it to him!

So, one wonders: might her homeowner’s insurance cover the lost funds, since this is a theft not altogether unlike a burglary or a stick-up?

The answer is probably not, unless you’ve already arranged for it. Most standard homeowner’s policies  offer no coverage for cybercrime, and many insurers do not cover it at all. However it is possible to buy such coverage: if you feel you or someone in your home may be vulnerable to a fast-talking hustler, talk to your insurance agent or broker about buying coverage when it’s time to renew your policy.

Meanwhile, the best way to protect yourself from phone hustlers is simply not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You can install automated assistance in this endeavor: for cell phones, check out this spectacularly delightful call blocking app. If you still use a landline — as some of us do to accommodate a home-based business — an in-line call-blocking device is many times more effective than the phone company’s half-baked efforts.

I use the CPR Call Blocker, which blocks most of the dozen or more nuisance calls that hit my phone number, every day. The hustlers spoof nearby area codes, hoping to trick you into thinking a number is coming from a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a local business. I’ve set the device to intercept numbers from the local area codes where I never do business and where none of my friends live. If for some reason I have to do business with someone in one of those areas, I tell them my phone doesn’t work and they need to email me — this works just fine. A number of such devices are on the market, and some landline phone sets come with built-in call blockers. Check the reviews on Amazon by way of making a choice.

Failing an electronic firewall, though, there’s a much simpler and infinitely better strategy: HANG UP.

The victim of the scam in question today believed the crook when he introduced himself as an Apple representative. Despite her initial skepticism, he fast-talked her into buying his story.

The obvious response to this? Hang up.

In this case, our victim’s next steps would have been pretty intuitive:

  1. Hang up on the caller. If you think it may be a genuine call, say something like Oh dear! The dog is peeing on the carpet! or Eeek! The baby just fell in the pool! Can I call you back? Then get the phone number the caller says will reach him or her.
  2. Call the bank. Tell a customer service rep what the caller claimed and ask a) is it likely to be true; and b) one way or the other, what can done to prevent hacking? Follow the customer service rep’s advice.
  3. Email a description of the call to abuse@apple.com, a service available to her as an Apple computer user. This won’t help you personally, but it will alert the company to the specific scam.

Even those of us who are pretty wary and wise to phone hustles can fall for a convincing pitch, especially if the caller knows something about you. The best defense is to avoid hustlers altogether — or at least, as well as one can — through the use of an effective call blocker. Second best is never to answer a call from a number you don’t recognize. And never, ever divulge financial or private information over the phone. Period.

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