Phone scams: How to protect yourself

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - We continue our month-long coverage on protecting you from scams with the story of a senior from North Port who lost close to $2,000 to a scammer -- simply by having a conversation over the telephone.

Carl Migliaccio says the guy over the phone who offered to lower his mortgage was very slick, and very cool. Unfortunately, like so many others around the nation, Migliaccio fell for it -- sending the scammer a check for $1,800.

Living on a fixed income, the 65-year-old Migliaccio would do just about anything to lower his mortgage payments. About a year ago, the phone rang; on the other end: a savior. “He said we are with Bank of America, and we can try to lower your mortgage so you can stay here and live. That would really help us.”

Carl was excited. At the same time, he never would have guessed that this "savior" was actually a scammer. “For some reason, this guy had all my information -- zip code, pin numbers…he just knew everything.”

That guy asked Carl to send him an $1,800 check to an address in California so he could start working on lowering those payments. Carl caved, and sent the money.

It's the last time the two ever made contact.

“It's so painful. You can’t put it into words...the thought that someone would set you up.”

So how could the person on the phone have all of Carl's information? The exact answer is unknown. However, in many scams like this, the problem is that financial institutions may not properly safeguard databases and other records containing sensitive information.

“Make sure you do your due diligence to verify who you are talking to. Do not send any money to anyone in any way,” says Detective Steve McDowell with the Sarasota Police Department.

Carl says he has certainly learned his lesson. “What have I learned? If somebody tells me it's raining out, I say, wait a minute, let me open my door and walk to the middle of the street.”

Carl did report the crime to police. But according to him, they told him it's unlikely he will ever see that money again.

So to protect yourself from over-the-phone scams, here are a few tips.

Do your research on the individual or company to ensure they are authentic. Get the name, address and telephone number of the individual or company; be wary of a company using a P.O. Box. You can also do your research by contacting the Better Business Bureau.

Second: As you heard in the report, this scammer knew all about Carl and his banking information. To try and prevent this, be sure to install passwords on your credit cards and bank accounts. Also, buy a shredder. Some scammers will go as far as looking through trash cans for personal information.

And finally, as you heard the detective say, never send money to anyone you don't know.