BBB: Government shutdown inspires phone call scams

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COLUMBIA - During the partial government shutdown that came to an agreement Friday, the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry service was closed to both consumers and telemarketers. 

Michelle Gleba, the Better Business Bureau's regional director, says scams happen all year round, but during special circumstances, consumers are particularly vulnerable. 

"Whenever there are unique circumstances such as the shutdown, you're going to see scammers come out of the woodwork to target consumers and take advantage of them," Gleba said. 

Margaret Watson, a Columbia resident, says she's had someone call her, claiming she owed back taxes. She said the caller insisted on verifying information he already had on her. 

"He had the last four digits of my Social Security Number, which I thought was kind of wild," Watson said.

Watson said the calls make her feel uneasy. 

"It made me feel a little nervous that he knew my address," Watson said. 

Consumers' ability to report potential scams to the FTC was closed due to the government shutdown. 

According to the FTC, the Registry service will re-open once the agency gets funding from the government. As of Friday afternoon, the Registry is still closed.

The Better Business Bureau of Columbia says scammers use threats of jail time or fines to trick consumers. 

"The one thing all these scam calls have in common is that they are asking you to provide personal information," Gleba said. "By doing that you are opening yourself up to fraud and you're opening yourself up to identity theft."

The main tip the organization tells consumers is if you don't know the number, don't answer it. Gleba said if the person calling you is a legitimate number, they will call you back.

"We encourage you to just be cautious, think twice, read the fine print, do your research, and avoid making reactive decisions you may later regret," Gleba said.