Despite government warnings — the scams just keep coming


By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist



I’ve often thought that if those who spend their time trying to find ways to illegally obtain the hard-earned money of their prey would simply spend their time on legal pursuits, we would have been able to find a cure for everything from cancer to the common cold, perfect the hydrogen fuel cell, and feed the hungry of the world. I mention this because I was too busy to answer my phone earlier today, and the caller was brazen enough to leave a message.

“It’s an intentional crime and an arrest warrant will be issued under your name for a client investigation so before we stop your banking and government services, kindly call back so you can be connected to a Social Security officer to resolve your case file before it goes to the court house. It is urgent that you call back. Thank you.”

I consider myself to be fairly well-informed, but I was not familiar with the area code from which the number of my call originated. I did what most everyone does, I looked online and found that “phone numbers with the 833 area code are toll-free numbers that can be easily registered by individuals and businesses for a relatively small fee. They are frequently used in phone scams relating to fake tech support and IRS payments.”

I also learned that the 833 area code is one of several different phone numbers in the United States that isn’t connected to any particular geographical location. The ambiguous nature of the 833 area code is one of the main reasons that it’s so popular with phone scammers. Apparently most people are like me and have no idea where the scam call is coming from. When that happens, we are likely to answer the call, if only out of curiosity.

Usually, unless my phone alerts me that the call is “Potential Spam,” I answer it. Given my previous profession, it is not unusual for me to receive calls from former students. Those students are scattered around the world in all 50 states and at last count, more than 38 foreign countries. Some call to “catch up” after not hearing from them for two or more decades.

In addition, I regularly speak with elected officials from across the state and beyond. Many of those calls come from unlisted numbers or numbers that I’ve never bothered to log into my system. As a result, I tend to answer my phone when it rings.

In any event, I learned that there is not one specific 833 area code scam. They range from fake computer tech support to loan repayments to Internal Revenue Service fraud to vehicle warranties.

I learned that while the subject of 833 area code scam calls can vary greatly, they they usually follow the format in which the scammer calls up a potential victim from an 833 phone number or getting the victim to call the 833 number themselves by leaving a voice message. Sometimes they send an email or text message. Sometimes they even post the number in an online advertisement.

I also learned that if you get a warning message on your computer that asks you to call an 833 number for tech support, it’s likely that your device has become compromised. Do not call the 833 number, and take the necessary action to secure your device.

Once the phone scammer makes contact with their intended victim, they will attempt to get money, personal information, or access to a computer. They do that by pretending to be a government official or a communications company employee.

It would seem that area code 833 scammers who call their potential victims usually find their targets by collecting names and phone numbers from public online directories or social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Scammers apparently also trick people into calling them by sending fake emails, text messages, or direct messages that look as if they’re sent from a legitimate company.

The easiest way to avoid being scammed by an 833 area code phone scammer is simply to never call an 833 number. If you receive a message as I did, certainly don’t call back.

If you receive a message from a company with which you normally do business, look up their actual number and call them to see if they tried to contact you. Undoubtedly you’ll learn that they didn’t, but if you have doubts, call their listed number, not the 833 area code number you’ve been given.

I would strongly suggest that you automatically become suspicious of any communication you receive instructing you to call a phone number to resolve an issue or to get specialized support. I would also strongly encourage you to only call a phone number if it’s listed on a company or organization’s official website. Take particular precaution when navigating to a site from a search engine or an email; some messages have links to fake websites that can be used to scam you even further.

Always make sure that your smartphone, tablet, and computer have the latest operating system and app updates installed. This can help protect you against viruses and malware that could trick you into calling a scammer’s number.

Finally, be careful about where you post your phone number and other contact information online. I would encourage you to consider setting your social media accounts, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to “private”.

If you’ve unfortunately already fallen victim to an internet or phone scam, there are a number of things that you should do. If you’ve been tricked into installing a program on your device, you should uninstall it immediately. Next, perform a software update on your computer or phone. You will need to run a good virus scan of your device. You’ll also need to change the password for every service or device that uses the password that you gave the scammer.

No matter what kind of phone scam you’ve become involved with, you should always report the scammers to the appropriate parties. This will help the stop scammers from scamming others in the future.

If you’ve sent money to someone after falling victim to a scam, you should contact your bank and credit card company immediately to help secure your accounts and reverse any transactions that you’ve made. Some PayPal transactions can be reversed if you act quickly. Unfortunately, you can wave goodbye to any money sent using a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. It will be lost forever, only enriching the scammer.

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By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.