During their weekly phone call in December 2016, Alison Hill sensed something was amiss with her mother, Valerie Hill.  

Normally reserved, the 93-year-old woman sounded giddy.

Eventually Alison and her four sisters discovered that their mother had spent nearly $100,000 on a phony scam.

Valerie had been led to believe that she had won a Publishers Clearing House prize and she scrambled to open new accounts to pay the scammers a lot of money so she could “claim the prize.”

But the PCS website has a warning, “you NEVER have to pay to claim a prize.”

The devilish, devious scam seriously stole her health.

It is a sad, horrible story that shows how devastating scams can be.

This true tale should serve as a strong warning to individuals of all ages and their family members to avoid all of the very attractive scam schemes that are promoted all year round by criminals and their teams.

In October, 5.1 billion robocalls flooded consumers’ phones — many of them promoting scams, according to the latest tally by YouMail, a robocall blocking and tracking company — a significant increase from just the month before.

In March, the Wall Street Journal published a story with this headline: “Illegal Robocalls Go Largely Unpunished.”

Since 2015, the Federal Communications Commission has ordered violators of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law governing telemarketing and robo-dialing, to pay $208.4 million.

So far, the government has collected $6,790 of that amount.

The Federal Trade Commission, through court judgments in cases involving civil penalties for robocalls or National Do Not Call Registry-related violations, plus the sum requested for consumer redress in fraud-related cases, is $1.5 billion since 2004.  The FTC has collected $121 million of that total, or about 8%.

Ian Barlow, a coordinator in the agency, said “that number stands on its own. We’re proud of it; we think our enforcement program is pretty strong.”

But Margo Saunders, senior counsel at consumer advocacy group National Consumer Law Center said, “It’s great that we have these laws; it’s great that we have public enforcement, but because there are so many calls and so many callers, the public enforcement is a joke. It doesn’t even make a dent.”

CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, is working on a new technology that will alert consumers when they receive a spoofed call and give them the option to answer or not. Called Shaken/Stir, the technology will begin to be rolled out in the spring of next year, though it will take some time to be fully implemented.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, called on the telecom industry to implement stronger measures against robocalls by the end of next year.

Some scammers use an age-old trick to call someone and say that a member of the targeted family is in jail and needs “bail money now.”

In November 2018, 35 state attorneys general issued a joint letter urging the federal government to step up efforts to fight illegal robocalls.

Maureen Mahoney, a Consumer Reports analyst in the publication’s advocacy division, said, “Consumers desperately need real protections from these unwanted, annoying and potentially dangerous robocalls.”

Many companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon, have services that alert you that an incoming robocall may be from a scammer or spammer. In some cases, such services are free, but for a few dollars more per month you can get a more robust version that can block the robocalls from ringing on your phone.  

People of all ages can fall for these scams.

Everyone must be vigilant.  Don’t ever send money to the scammers, because that’s the way they make their living, illegally.

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