Tim Chitwood

Watch out for ever increasing scam calls, texts

A new phone or Internet scam makes the rounds about twice a week now.

I get calls and texts all the time. Here’s a message from Tuesday at 3:32 p.m. It says “Wells Locked” with an online link, apparently intended to make me think Wells Fargo has texted to tell me I can’t access my bank account unless I go to that link and type in some account information.

Here’s another, from last Sunday at 1:15 p.m. It says it’s from “fargo-bank”: “(Account Suspended)” it says with a link. I don’t know why “Account Suspended” is in parentheses. Maybe it’s supposed to sound like a whispered secret or an aside.

I wish scammers knew that I do not text, much, so they should quit texting me to tell me they’re about to lock my bank account, because I’m not going to go to whatever link they sent to my flip phone.

Also I’m not giving them personal bank or credit card information in response to a call on my cell or my office phone, so they can stop leaving me voicemails on those.

And I would not give them personal information over my home landline, either, especially if they claimed to represent the Columbus Water Works, told me my bill was past due, and offered pay it off for a fee, if I paid the fee via credit card.

The Water Works posted a Facebook warning about this last week, and though you can’t believe everything you see on Facebook — which you would think some of your Facebook “friends” knew by now — you can believe this, because I called and asked about it. As far as you know.

“We’ve just had a few of these,” Water Works spokesman Vic Burchfield said of the reported scam calls.

Someone calls and says the customer has a backlogged bill that can be paid off for a flat fee. Give them some payment information for the fee, and the bill will be paid in full.

“Of course they take the money and don’t pay the bill,” Burchfield said.

The Water Works does not call customers to collect a bill. It corresponds with customers via the Postal Service, unless they have signed up for online notices.

It also does not send collectors to customers’ homes. It does have workers who notify residents of utility work that could interrupt service, and some who come to do work by appointment.

They travel in vehicles marked with the authority’s logo, and wear photo IDs with an employee number. Customers who want to double-check whether someone works for the Water Works can call 706-649-3400.

Customers who need to report imposters should call 911.

Burchfield said he’s heard no reports of these scammers “spoofing,” or appearing to be the Water Works on caller ID, nor of visiting anyone’s home to collect a bill.

A rash of “spoofing” was reported a while back, during a jury duty phone scam in which the pitch was that the targets missed jury duty and would be arrested, unless they paid a fine over the phone. The call appeared to come from the courthouse.

You already may be getting scam calls from numbers with a 706 area code and a common local prefix, for Columbus. That’s called “neighborhood spoofing,” according to a story last September in the Washington Post: If you think it’s a local call, you’re more likely to answer.

The story reported tech firm First Orion’s warning that scam calls rocketed from around 4 percent of all calls in 2017 to nearly a third of all calls last year, and are expected to rise to 45 percent this year.

Just think of all the time you’ll be wasting when half your phone calls are scams.

That’s why I try not to answer the phone now. In fact I cut the ringer off on the landline phone in the bedroom, because it kept waking me up.

Someone should tell the scammers that, too: They can ring that phone all they want; I’m not going to hear it.

But you don’t have to sever all contact with the world to avoid scams, as far as you know.

Just remember not to trust anyone who calls or texts you, and you’ll be fine.