The IRS is calling and they want you to load a pre-paid debit card with a certain amount of money in order avoid jail time.
The only problem is that the IRS doesn’t actually operate that way and the people making the phone calls are scammers looking to bilk concerned citizens out of thousands of dollars in any one of a number of ways – including “spoofing” a phone number to make it look like it actually originates somewhere else.
And while these sorts of phone calls used to center around the holidays, local police officials are saying that they’re more and more common – fielding multiple questions and inquires from citizens who are afraid they’re being swindled.
“There has been a rise lately but it’s something that is going – we get people coming in several times a week saying that they just sent out $800 or $1,000 and they haven’t heard anything back,” said Lathrop Police Services Lt. James Hood. “We’ve been working with the public to notify people about these scams and doing it through water bills and announcements at city council meetings – letting people know that these scams are out there and preventing them from being victimized by these criminals under the threat of being arrested or paying for a warrant that’s outstanding to avoid arrest.
“Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there making the payments.”
According to Hood, a disturbing new scam involves calling and telling people that they have an outstanding warrant and they need to pay a set amount of money in order to prevent them from getting arrested – a different take on the IRS scam that has been taking place all over the country.
Anybody with a warrant, he said, would need to make payments through the court system in order to clear those, and they would receive a letter and not a phone call forcing them to clear the matter up.
“What I want people to know is that if you have a warrant for y our arrest, absolutely no law enforcement agency is going to call you and demand payment to avoid arrest – any payments for warrants or criminal acts that you have committed in the past are going to need to go through the courts or the probation department,” Hood said. “If you owe any money to the IRS, they’re not going to call you, but they’ll send out a letter. If somebody is requesting money through a phone call for these purposes, we want you to call us immediately and let us deal with it – do not make any type of payment without checking with your local law enforcement agency first.”
Hood recommends getting their name, phone number and organization they’re supposedly representing to help aid in the investigation and to make sure the information can be forwarded to the proper authorities.
The IRS scams are so widespread that the government agency that enforces the tax code has a special section on its website to report them and includes detailed information about the types of scams that are out there.
But telephone scams aren’t the only way people can get hustled for their money.
A longstanding trick called the “pigeon drop” has long been used by confidence men to convince marks that they need to pony up an amount of money in order to get access to a larger amount of money.
According to Ripon Police Lt. Steve Merchant, some of these “pigeon drop” scams include people working in teams – somebody coming up that seems like a passerby and agrees to take the bait in order to influence the scammer.
“I just read that scams like these have taken something like $300,000 to $400,000 from people in the Central Valley alone recently,” Merchant said. “We’ll get people that call up and ask questions and our answers are always, ‘it’s a scam.’
“And with the amount of information that is available through social media today, there are a lot more ways to make people feel like the requests are authentic – there’s a scam where people call and say that a loved one has been arrested in Mexico and they money sent right away in order to get them out. They might even have the name of a grandchild or family member that they pulled off of Facebook. If somebody supposedly in a position of authority asks you to send money through Western Union or on a pre-paid card like Green Dot, it’s going to be a scam.”
Merchant said that scams like these are taking place almost daily and the majority are targeted at the elderly in the community.
He recommends getting as much information as possible from the caller – name, telephone number and location as well as the agency or entity they’re representing – so that police officials can investigate the claim.
“The sad thing is that these criminals tend to prey on the elderly population – good, honest, hardworking, trusting people and if you call and say you’re an official they’ll believe it,” Merchant said. “Right now we’re trying to get everybody to second guess that.”