POLK COUNTY — Scams can be scary, and the latest IRS calling scam can get worse than threatening messages on your answering machine, said Ellen Klem, director of consumer outreach and education for the Office of the Attorney General.
“The tone has been really aggressive and frightening,” Klem said.
Last year, the top complaint of the year reported to the Office of the AG was the IRS imposter scam, with 1,400 complaints, Klem said. The second-most complained about scam received 700.
“We’re not alone, unfortunately,” she said. “Across the country this is happening to lots of other people.”
But the IRS scam, as well as its similar scams in different clothing, can get worse than just a robot leaving a message on the answering machine.
After making the threat, scammers may hang up and another will call back pretending to be from the local police or Department of Motor Vehicles, said Independence Sgt. Tino Banuelos. Often the caller ID will support their claims.
“If a person ever has a doubt about whether the person on the other end of a phone call is, in fact, a police officer, they can request the officer’s name and agency,” Banuelos said. “I would not rely solely on the caller ID as even these numbers can be ‘spoofed.’”
Klem said if someone falls initially for a scam, and then gets wise to the mistake, it can lead to a different tactic.
“The scammer comes for more money,” Klem said. “You say, ‘I’m wise to you; you’re not getting any more money.’”
So they get a call from a police officer asking for help to catch the scammer, Klem said.
“They say, ‘this is a bad scam,’” she explained. “We’re looking for undercover people to help us. Can you wire some more money to that same person. Here’s my badge number. I promise you’ll get your money back.’”
Even if the caller ID looks right, local law enforcement would never request money to be sent to a scammer.
“Our officers would not call someone like this and definitely not try to get anyone to send money,” Monmouth Sgt. Kim Dorn said. “This is not how law enforcement would set up a ‘sting operation.’”
Furthermore, Dorn said the person should look up the agency on his or her own instead of asking the scammer for the return phone number, using, Google, the phone book or 411.
Dallas Lt. Jerry Mott said if money was required for an investigation, officers would not seek for a citizen to pay it.
“If we needed something like that to happen, we would take over the account and fund it with investigative funds,” he said. “A police officer should never request money from a person over the phone, email or social media.”
Mott said sometimes people will receive a phone call from the Dallas City Animal Control to let them know they need to renew their dog licenses, but even then they will be asked to come to City Hall to pay or mail in the payment, never to pay by phone with a prepaid Visa card or otherwise.
The bottom line is: hang up.
“It is really hard though, especially if you’ve been raised to be polite when people come to the door and call on the phone,” Klem said. “But that’s your best line of defense. If you have to, write it on a sticky note and put it by your telephone. I think that’s good advice.”