New phone scam reported as holidays approach

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COLUMBIA - The holidays are a time when phone scammers take advantage of people who look to donate to a worthy cause.

The United Way of Central Missouri said it received a complaint from a local company, which said an unknown person called them claiming to represent the Randolph County branch of the United Way. The scammer said the person needed to "update their records" and asked for personal information.

Boone County sherriff's detective Tom O' Sullivan says phone scams have "intensified" since the spring. O' Sullivan said the best defense against scammers is to be suspicious of anyone who won't immediately provide their name and the organization they represent.

"If you don't know who's on the other end of the phone, assume they're trying to rip you off, or at the very least, they're trying to annoy you. That's as simple as I can say it," O'Sullivan said.

Sean Spence of the Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau said the practice of scammers who try to get personal and financial information over the phone is called phishing. He said scammers are more active during the holidays, and look to get access to their victims' wallets.

"It's a time when people are giving, are looking to donate to charity. It's a pretty opportune time for a scam artist," Spence said.

Although sometimes the phishing is random, he said, scammers will sometimes target senior citizens because they tend to be more willing to give than those in other age demographics.

Anyone who suspects they might be on the phone with a scammer, Spence said the best thing to do is simply ask for their name and number and offer to call them back. It's important to look up the caller's purported organization and title to verify if they're legitimate, he said.  He also recommended checking the Better Business Bureau's website to keep up with current phone scams.

 O' Sullivan said most people aren't falling for most of the phone scams, but he thinks the best way to handle a suspicious caller is a button-push away.

"Learn to hang up," he said.

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