As speculation about President Donald J. Trump, Russia and the whole collusion question rages on, scammers are watching.
They know most Americans feel pretty passionate about the president — one way or another.
And like all opportunists, scammers know when to pounce.
Now is that time.
Leading up to Election Day, political scam calls skyrocketed, with an increase of more than 600 percent, according to Hiya, a phone spam protection company.
We don’t have numbers for what’s happening now, but anecdotal evidence shows the scam calls are making the rounds.
The most common calls involve requests for donations to campaigns or to groups that support one side or the other.
It’s perfectly legal for political campaigns to solicit donations by phone, but this is something different. It’s a fraud.
While political emotions are running hot, callers claiming to represent candidates, elected officials, political parties and advocacy groups are asking voters for money.
What’s more, the scammers can easily figure out nuggets of information about you — including to which political party you belong, which is public information in New Jersey — to make their pitch more convincing.
This scam poses two problems.
First, if you give your credit card information over the phone, the impersonators will charge your card and keep the money for themselves. It won’t be a donation to a cause or candidate you believe in.
Second, and even more troubling, the bad guys will now have your card number, expiration date and CVV — the three digit number on the back of your card. They can now go on a shopping spree or sell your data to another nefarious crook.
If you hand over your debit card number, it’s even worse because the scammers could wipe clean your checking account before you notice. That could lead to bounced payments and overdraft fees.
While you can probably limit your losses by reporting fraudulent charges to your bank or lender, it’s still a major hassle.
To protect yourself, never give your credit card information over the phone to someone who calls you. If you’re tempted to give, ask the caller to mail you documentation so you can check out the group or individual. Or better yet, search online for the proper contact information for the organization to arrange for a donation.
We know you, dear readers, have strong opinions about all things political. One look at the comments section on NJ.com makes that clear.
Con artists know voters like to share their opinions, so they take advantage with phony political surveys.
Though a phone call or an email, they may ask questions about hot-button issues, which candidate you prefer, or how well or poorly you think the president or the governor is doing.
Giving those answers doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if the caller or emailer isn’t genuine, it can lead to trouble.
With email, the sender might direct you to a link to take an online survey. If you click, you might download malware onto your computer.
Another common issue is that you’ll be directed to a fraudulent website. After you take the survey, the site will tell you how to enter yourself in a drawing for a prize or it might say you’ve already won. Then it will ask for your personal information.
The prize come-on is popular with the phone version of the scam. After you take the verbal survey, the caller says you’ve won. Then you’d be directed to give your credit card information to pay for shipping or taxes on the prize. From there, the scammers can run amok with your credit or debit card.
What to do?
Start by paying attention to your Caller ID. If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer. If the call was important, they’ll call you back or leave a message.
If you do answer the phone and someone starts asking personal questions, just hang up and don’t take any chances.
If you want to share your opinions, head back to NJ.com’s comments section.
VOTER REGISTRATION SCAMS
Whether or not you believe masses of people voted illegally in the last election, don’t let someone trick you about your own voter status.
Callers pretending to be from a county or state election office are hoping you will want to double-check your status.
They might say it’s a routine check, and then ask for your private information, including your Social Security number, to verify your identity.
Or they may say your voter registration was compromised, or even that two votes in your name were counted in the last election. To make sure you’re the correct voter, the faker will ask for you to prove your identity.
Don’t do it. Hang up.
No legitimate election official will ever call you on the phone with concerns about your voter status. Not ever.
If you want to check on your status, contact the New Jersey Division of Elections or call (877) NJ-VOTER.