Retiring: When Answering the Phone Exposes You to Fraud


Ellen Dolan, 63, a property manager in Horsham, Pa., said she had been inundated with so many annoying robocalls, many of them from spoofed numbers, that she changed the mobile number she had had for years.

“I couldn’t tell who were business contacts I wanted to hear from, and people who didn’t give their names but launched into a spiel about refinancing loans or a better deal on health care insurance,” Ms. Dolan said. She complained to the fraud line of the BBB, formerly the Better Business Bureau.

Besides the BBB and the F.T.C., other groups take reports, including the AARP Fraud Watch Network, the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, and the Federal Communications Commission. Consumers can also sign up for the Do Not Call Registry, which, although created to block telemarketers, can help weed out fraud attempts as well.

Certain flavors of fraud schemes seem to persist, such as callers claiming to be from the I.R.S. And because of automated dialing, it’s not unusual for some consumers to receive multiple calls a day, particularly in the run-up to tax-filing season. In July, more than 20 people working with call centers in India were sentenced in a large scheme that bilked more than 15,000 Americans of hundreds of millions of dollars over a four-year period.

Shutting down this operation helped tamp down some income-tax baiting calls, but other varieties of scams live on. Certain scams are holiday themed, and pop up at this time of year more frequently, whether by phone or by other means, according to the AARP: charity donation and gift-card scams, fake retail websites and even “letters from Santa,” which try to harvest a recipient’s identifying information.

“It’s a new twist every day,” said Amy Nofziger, a fraud expert for the AARP. “Some calls offer prizes to get your interest, and others use fear.”

One favorite of Ms. Nofziger’s: A caller will accuse an older person of wrongdoing, then demand the person’s Social Security number, threatening to cut off benefits without it.


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