GENERATIONS: Don't answer those unfamiliar numbers

The Federal Reserve website cautions people not to provide any personal financial information and to verify the legitimacy of any service providers before making any business transactions.

Dolores Gomez, right, talks with Bemidji police officers Tabitha Carrigan, left, and Christopher Muller after a Beltrami-Bemidji Triad meeting about scams in 2016 at the Bemidji Senior Center. (Pioneer file photo)

I got one of those calls the other day—this one from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. I don’t know anyone in Poughkeepsie, so I didn’t answer, but later, I found the voicemail.

It had missed the first few words of the message: "…##### so that we can discuss about your case (flag No. 1) and take necessary action on this matter. If we don’t hear from you, then we (flag No. 2) will be forced to take legal action against you. Kindly (flag No. 3) press one or call us back at ##########." This is verbatim from the transcribed message (without the phone number).

Sounds like BS, I thought. I’d like to think I have a fairly good BS-detector. After all, I do have a BS degree from BSC, in 1975, but BS has changed a lot since then. Three flags stood out as I re-read my transcription. First, most people for whom English is their first language would say "discuss your case" not "discuss about your case." Second, the caller identified herself only with an ambiguous "we." A former English teacher is quick to pick up on pronouns without antecedents. Third, the tone of the message juxtaposed with "kindly" seemed odd. Most native English speakers might have used "please" or would have maintained the tone of the message with no polite request.

A few days later, a message from Los Angeles threatened to arrest me: “…verge of being suspended as the law enforcement agencies (flag No. 4) have found some fraudulent and some suspicious activities involving your social. (Flag No. 5) To know more and to connect with the officer, (flag No. 6) press one. I repeat, please press one." The flags to my BS-detector included the lack of specificity from the "law enforcement agencies," no "security" to go with "social," and no name associated with the "officer."

Fraud investigators tell us that Social Security, IRS and law enforcement do not operate like this. They also say, "Never pick up. Never call back." This call was the second of five I received within about 10 days. A third call came two days after the second—the exact same recorded message as the first call, except from Los Angeles.


I was in my car when a fourth and more urgent pre-recorded message came. The unfamiliar number from Sugar Grove, Ill., showed up on my screen. Normally I would not have picked up, but I was in the middle of a project and was awaiting return calls from people whose numbers were not in my contacts—calls I didn’t want to miss. This one was from Minneapolis, so I hit the button on my steering wheel to receive the call.

The recording said that, due to fraudulent activity, my Social Security benefits would be permanently stopped if I did not respond. I did not respond, although I had to admit that the call would have frightened someone with a less wary BS-detector. A few days later, a fifth call was more specific. I let the call from Dalton, Minn., (area code 218) go to voicemail: "…activities from your banking accounts into which there is a legal case being filed under your name and there is an arrest warrant being issued for the same. In order to talk to an officer from law enforcement unit of Federal Reserve System, please press one and hold the line."

I searched "Federal Reserve System" and learned that several fraudulent scams out there are using emails, robocalls and phishing. One email scam claims "that you are eligible to receive a large sum of funds (inheritance, lottery winnings, wire transfer, etc.) from the "Federal Reserve Bank." I had received a voice message in February from "…Angela with the financial relief center…reaching out to inform [me of] a recent lawsuit settlement in the news" and urging me to get "enrolled for this relief program." The message also said, "We aren’t sure how long this will last, so give us a call at your earliest convenience."

The Federal Reserve System robocall scams claim that the Federal Reserve has a warrant for your arrest (the call I got). A phishing scam uses email or social media networks and claims to be from the Federal Reserve.

I remembered being in the checkout line at Walgreens last year, behind an elderly (older than me) man who wanted to purchase several gift cards. Fortunately, the clerk recognized this as a scam and encouraged the man not to purchase and send off the cards to someone he didn’t know who had contacted him via email.

The Federal Reserve website cautions people not to provide any personal financial information and to verify the legitimacy of any service providers before making any business transactions. In other words, talk to your banker before sending tens of thousands of dollars to someone who calls on behalf of a relative who can’t talk because he/she has just been in a serious accident but needs $40,000 for emergency surgery—or before sending any money to anyone you don’t know personally.

Legitimate organizations do not contact the public through unsolicited calls or emails to ask for personal information or request money. The FBI has an Internet Crime Complaint Center where people can report suspected fraudulent communications. You can block scam numbers and get on a "Do Not Call" list to avoid calls, but scammers work hard to be a step ahead of the game and find ways to get around things.

The cover story of the April 2021 AARP Bulletin, “Inside the Fraud Factory,” features a Robin Hood of sorts who hacks the frauds. I recommend you read it.


My husband recently answered a call from an unfamiliar number, and the female voice with a foreign accent said, "Hi, Dad. It’s your daughter." We only have one daughter, and he knew it wasn’t her voice. When he asked, "What’s your name?" his "daughter" joked about not even knowing her name. Then he hung up. I don’t know where that call might have gone, but… it better have been a scam!

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