In a recent article (“Email Scams Just Keep on Coming“), we looked at email scams as a fast-growing cyber crime. This post will examine an older crime: less prolific in today’s world, but often more costly to the victim.
Before we start, a side note about email scams. Since I wrote the email scam article three weeks ago, I have kept track of potentially fraudulent emails I have received. The count: thirteen. On Saturday, I received a legitimate-looking email from Bank of America telling me that there had been numerous unusual sign-in attempts on my mobile banking account. A link to my account was included. I was encouraged to sign in and verify all my information. When I independently signed in to my account using the “real” B of A website, no alerts were listed, just as I thought. This just reinforces the fact that we are all potential victims of email fraud, and fairly often. Beware!
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Now on to phone scams. Scammers impersonating government agencies often use the phone to facilitate their crimes. Just recently in Orlando, where I live, scammers have been attacking owners of brand-new businesses. They call owners who are just ready to open their new business and tell them they have failed to pay sufficient utility deposits. Their demand has been $2,000 to $3,000, to be paid immediately to a specified account—or their electricity, water, etc. will be turned off. At least three business owners in the past three months have paid the money before realizing it was a hoax.
Fraudsters have also been taking advantage of victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Robocalls are going out telling victims that they must pay a certain amount to keep their flood insurance active. If they don’t pay, any claim they submit will be denied.
Scammers are also taking advantage of the recent Equifax breach. Consumers are getting calls, allegedly from Equifax, asking them to verify all their personal information. Other fraudsters are calling from fake law enforcement telephone numbers. When the victim sees “law enforcement” on their caller ID, they pick up. They are then told they have missed jury duty and must pay a fine immediately over the phone to avoid prosecution and jail time.
Other scams involve calls regarding government grants (free money), airline ticket giveaways, free cruises, iCloud breaches and many more. Most of these calls either demand some type of payment or personal information to verify identity. Another recent trick involves the scammer asking, “Can you hear me?” when the victim answers the phone. When they say yes, their voice is recorded and later used as a voice signature by the crooks to authorize changes on the victim’s credit card account.
Nothing is more intimidating than a call from the IRS. Fraudsters use that fear to their advantage. That’s why phone scams impersonating IRS agents are numerous and why they remain on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list of scams for 2017. Aggressive and threatening phone calls by fake IRS scammers are especially numerous during tax season. They often demand that a victim pay a bogus tax bill. They want cash, so they talk the victim into using a wire transfer or prepaid debit or gift card. Some of the threats used are arrest, deportation or revocation of a driver’s license. There are also numerous variations of the above tactics.
Things to Do and Remember Regarding IRS Phone Scams
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment. The IRS will generally mail a bill to any taxpayer owing taxes.
- Threaten to bring in local police or any law enforcement agency for non-payment of taxes.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone.
For taxpayers who don’t owe money or don’t think they do:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Use the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting page or call 800-366-4484 to report suspected scams.
- Report suspicions to the Federal Trade Commission using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
For those who owe tax or think they do:
- Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS agents can help.
Things to Remember Regarding All Phone Scams
- Like the IRS, most government agencies use the US mail for contact.
- If any offer is too good to be true, it probably is.
- Hang up fast if you are threatened or suspect anything.
- Never give personal information over the phone unless you originated the call and know exactly whom you are talking to.
- Don’t be intimidated, even if you owe money. There are legitimate avenues to resolve problems without threat or intimidation.
- Independently verify any suspicious phone call through independent sources.
Finally, as with potential email scams, maintain a healthy dose of suspicion and paranoia and take additional steps to verify any request for money or personal information. Good luck!