How to respond if you receive a robocall
George Hord got a call on Thursday from someone who said they were from the Becker Law Office.
The man said the law firm was about to file a lawsuit against him and to make the lawsuit go away, Hord needed to send them money. But the Mt. Washington native was suspicious. The caller had part of his social security number and demanded that he repeat the case number to be connected to a lawyer to learn more about the alleged lawsuit against him.
Instead Hord hung up and called the Becker Law Office. The office had no lawsuit against Hord. It was a scam, he was told.
“Normally, I wouldn’t have paid any attention but they used the Becker Law firm’s name, which is a respected law firm that has been around for more than 30 years,” Hord said. “That’s why I called them directly to make sure there was no lawsuit.”
Hord wasn’t the only one. Several people called Becker last week and said they, too, had been called by someone pretending to be from Becker Law Office.
Kevin Renfro, the owner of the law firm with offices around Kentucky, was astonished and alarmed. The scammers were sophisticated.
The law office’s information technology department discovered at least 80 phone calls by Friday afternoon had been “spoofed” from the law office’s fax machine, meaning the scammers had called at least 80 people using what appeared to be the Becker Law Office fax number.
“We were fortunate, we had several people call us and tell us that they had been contacted and did not fall for it,” Renfro said. “We want to spread the word that this is a scam.”
Unsolicited phone calls are becoming more common, not just in Kentucky but across the country, said Ben Long, the executive director of consumer protection for the Kentucky Attorney General’s office. From January to June 30, the office received 653 complaints about unsolicited phone calls. “That puts us on pace for about 1,300 for the year,” Long said. “ We had 1,067 in all of 2017.”
Nationally, the Federal Communications Commission said unwanted phone calls are its top complaint and has been for years. In 2017, the FCC said consumers got an estimated 98 million automated calls daily. YouMail Inc, a company that tracks unsolicited phone calls and sells software to block them, estimates that the number of unsolicited calls jumped in the last six months from 2.9 billion in January to 4.1 billion in June.
Fraud from these scams is estimated to cost consumers about $9.5 billion annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Most are not from legitimate telemarketers but are scam artists, Long said. Moreover, these type of unsolicited phone calls are becoming more difficult for Kentucky and other states to crack down on because many of the scammers are operating outside of the country.
“It is truly a national problem and it’s going to take a federal approach,” Long said. “It’s going to take the industry and the federal legislation working together on some level to address this issue.”
It has also become easier for scammers to “spoof” legitimate phone numbers, as they did with the Becker Law Office number.
Becker Law Office thinks the con artists using their phone number are not from Kentucky and are possibly operating overseas, Renfro said.
“We were told by several people who called us that the scammers — who were either posing as an attorney or a paralegal — did not have good command of English or had terrible grammar, but they were using American names like Steve Brown or Johnny,” said Renfro.
Long said most unsolicited calls and scams go unreported, but his office wants to hear from consumers about them. People can call the consumer protection division at 502-696-5389 or visit the web site nocall.ky.gov
The office has been successful in going after some scammers.
For example, the office recovered more than $50,000 in 2016 that an Elizabethtown woman had sent to scammers who had said they were with the IRS and demanded that she pay back taxes or face jail time. The office was able to track the money to an account, “which was owned by Tours Limited, a travel agency in Atlanta. We filed suit against Tours Limited to recover the money. The business settled the suit and agreed to pay the full restitution of $50,992. Ultimately, the office was able to return all of the money the senior lost,” Long said.
The consumer protection office now has a scam alert system that send texts to people alerting them of recent scams in the state. There also are hundreds of apps for smart phones that will stop unsolicited calls — but nearly all most be purchased.
State and federal Do Not Call lists are still effective in stopping legitimate telemarketers, Long said. People should make sure their current mobile number is on the federal Do Not Call List, he said.
Meanwhile, Renfro said it’s likely that Becker Law Office is not the only law office con artists are using as a front to bilk innocent people out of money.
“If it’s going on here it’s likely going on in other states,” Renfro said. “If even one person falls for it, that’s one person too many.”