Cell Phone Scams: How to Avoid Them And What To Do If You Are a Victim

smishing_RP_032712In the last few months I have seen a bump in the number of scams making the rounds regarding  phones, services, bills, etc. Since there have been a lot of legitimate changes, offers, and promotions from Verizon, it can be hard to tell the difference between the real deal and the scams.I have seen these come and go over the years, and they morph depending on whatever popular communications trend there is (text, Facebook, email, etc). They may vary a little, and they might come back if the trends change where a different social media site or communication medium becomes popular, but if you look at the footprints here, you can recognize them or whatever new version they may take.

Below are some of the more common scams going around, how to best guard against them, and what you should do if you find you have been the victim of a scam.


1. International call routing. You get a call from a mysterious number. When you return the call, you are routed through an international call, and a $20 per minute fee is tacked on to your bill.


2. Verizon Bill credit: You get a text message or email saying something to the effect of “you have been selected to receive a $40 bill credit. Go to vzw40.com to claim your prize.” The website prompts you to enter in your My Verizon login information, and now whoever scamming you has access to your account and can add new lines on, upgrade, etc. I have seen this happen where the scammer upgraded and changed the devices back to the old phones and the victim didn’t even know they were duped until they got the bill. A similar scam has come up via text message that prompts you to call a phone number that is only one or two digits different than Verizon’s official number.


3. Banking scams. These don’t neccessarily fall under the Verizon umbrella since they don’t affect your Verizon bill, but they are coming in via text or email. Similar to the phone bill credit, you may get a message asking you to go to a bank website like wells.fargo.com (instead of wellsfargo.com). Again, once you enter in your online bank information, the scammers have your info and can steal your identity.


4. IRS scams. This isn’t the IRS scamming you, but rather someone impersonating the IRS. One news story I saw this morning detailed that these scammers are increasing their “credibility” by sending letters as well as calling and emailing. Basically they ask you to make an electronic payment to the IRS (which isn’t actually the IRS in this scam), and now they have your bank account.  Expect this one to ramp up when tax season approaches.


Here is how to prevent yourself from being a victim of these scams:


1. The international caller scam: simple. Do not return a call if you don’t recognize the number. This is the 21st century. We all know how voicemail works. If the person calling you doesn’t leave a message or send you a text, or call you back, it wasn’t that important of a call.


2, 3 &4. The defense against these scams is relatively simple. Verizon’s website is always www.verizonwireless.com. . All their other sites always start with that prefix. So the bill payment website is www.verizonwireless.com/paymybill and the website to check if you are eligible for an employee discount is www.verizonwireless.com/discounts for instance. Scammers will use a web address that looks similar, like verizon-wireless.com or wells.fargo.net, or some variation. To guard yourself against this, only log on to Verizon’s (or your bank’s, or the IRS, or whatever) through the official website. You can also call your local Cellular Plus, or bank, or other institution. If your local dealer cannot verify an offer and it is not on your account on the official Verizon website, it is probably not the real deal. If you are not sure if the offer is legitimate, only make contact from the institution’s official numbers, and if you aren’t sure get them off of the back of your credit card or the company’s website. When in doubt, DO NOT call the number listed in the original solicitation. From time to time, Verizon actually does have a specific number to call for certain deals, but their main call center can transfer you to the appropriate department.


If you find or suspect you are a victim of a scam, you need to be proactive. We at Cellular Plus are here to help, but you are going to have to be vigilant as well. The sooner you can act, the better (in other words, Verizon is not going to be as forgiving if you want to dispute a charge on a bill that is several months old). First, call Verizon customer service at 800-922-0204 and keep pressing 0 until you get to a live operator and see if there is any suspicious activity. You are looking for international dial charges that you were unaware of, or unauthorized upgrades and equipment purchases, especially if they were sent to an unusual address, or activated and deactivated quickly. Be sure to have the call notated. Bill credits, contract changes, and equipment upgrade reversals are rare and sometimes can take time for a supervisor’s approval. Having the account notated helps if you need to follow up to ensure that the resolution was completed. Even if they promise a follow up call, make one yourself. Changing your account security password and online passwords and double-checking the authorized user/account manager list is also a good idea.


Recovering from being a victim of identity theft is thankfully somehting I don’t have firsthand experience with. However, one of the benefits of Protect Cell’s Complete membership program is Identity Restoration With LifeLock. While this is not the complete monitoring service that LifeLock offers, Protect Cell will connect you with LifeLock and they will help you restore your identity from start to finish. Simply call their membership hotline at 877-775-3274 and ask to be put in touch with one of their identity restoration specialists. Going it alone requires a lot of work, but it can be done. Contact your banks, credit card companies, and anywhere that you have money or that money can be charged to you, look for suspicious activity, and change your passwords and account info.


As a general rule, I usually like to say that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, with all the changes and promotions that have been happening in the world of wireless technology, there actually are some offers that sound too good to be true, but they are the real deal. Perhaps a better motto would be “if it sounds too good to be true, it’s worth looking before you leap.”