'We're calling about your car warranty' and phone scams that drive you nuts

'We're calling about your car warranty' and phone scams that drive you nuts

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A commuter on her phone at Penn Station in New York.

Phone scams abound. (Joshua Bright/The New York Times)

Hi, I'm here to talk to you about your car's extended warranty.

Actually, I'm here to talk to you about the phone call you get every day about your car's extended warranty.

The car warranty scam has been going around for years, but it has really revved up lately.

It goes like this: You get a call saying your car warranty is about to expire, but that you can pay a little extra to extend it. It might sound like it's coming from your dealership or another reputable company associated with it. The caller might even have information about the year, make and model of your vehicle.

They might even be selling a real product. That product would be a service contract that costs a ton, covers nothing and is impossible to collect. Or, they might just be trying to straight up steal your money or your identity.

They might tell you to press zero for an operator. You might do it so you can ask the operator to stop calling you. They might tell you to press one to be taken off their call list. That will sound like an attractive option, as well.

But, if you press any buttons, the robocallers will know they've hit a "live" number. They'll call you more often. And they'll resell your number over and over to other deadbeats because they've established that you're a hot lead.

Of course, this robocalling nonsense is old news to you by now. You probably already know you should hang up the second you know who is calling. And most of you realize you shouldn't have picked up the phone in the first place.

You've learned by now not to answer calls from numbers you don't recognize. And you've learned that calls that seem to come from places you do recognize – the police station, your credit card company, someone from your area code – are likely spoofed on your caller ID to disguise their real origin.

The car warranty calls are just part of an unending, infuriating stream of telemarketing scams and schemes.

The good news is that the number of people falling prey to scams has fallen, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The bad news is that the ones who are taken, are being taken for more money. The median loss per victim last year was $700.

For the most part these days, the problem isn't so much avoiding the scams themselves, but avoiding the annoying phone calls.

Many of us got rid of our landline phones when robocalls started outnumbering real ones. But now they get us on our cellphones, too. And many scams have made the jump to text messaging. (Pro tip: If someone texts you a link, don't click it!)

So what can you do? The advice hasn't changed much, but it doesn't hurt to repeat it.

Register your phone numbers with the Do Not Call List by calling 1-888-382-1222. It won't make a huge difference because scammers don't care about rules. But it might cut down on some legitimate solicitors.

If you have an iPhone, you can set it up to silence any numbers you don't recognize. You'll still get notified that the call came in, and the caller will still be able to leave a voicemail, but you won't have to deal with the interruption. Just go to your settings, tap "phone" and then select "silence unknown callers."

Not all Android phones allow call silencing, but you can block numbers that call repeatedly on both iPhone and Android. The process can be different from one Android phone to another. In some models, you'll hold your finger over the phone number in your call log, then select "block number." In other models, you can go into the phone's settings, then click "call blocking" and either select which number you want to block or key a phone number in.

Of course, that doesn't help when a scammer calls from a different spoofed phone number every time. So you can also select certain spam filters under your caller ID settings. That way, your phone's caller ID will flash a warning when a phone number is suspected spam.

Good luck out there, folks. May all your phone calls be from loved ones.

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