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March 10, 2015

Miller Warns about Pervasive Telephone Scams

Criminals use many ruses and methods, but always make one demand: pay now

(DES MOINES, Iowa) Threatening callers make many claims: they’re an IRS agent collecting back taxes, they’re a sheriff’s deputy seeking unpaid fines from unfulfilled jury duty, they’re your local utility demanding payment for delinquent bills, or it’s a debt collector claiming you owe an unpaid debt.

The list of stories is long, but it always ends with one demand: pay now, or else. If you don’t pay now, the caller claims you’ll face serious consequences, including imminent arrest or a court summons.

Attorney General Tom Miller warned Iowans to guard against these scams, which dozens of consumers daily are reporting to the Consumer Protection Division and local law enforcement statewide.

“Iowans report that callers claiming they’re with the IRS or local authorities warn the recipient of the call to act immediately to clear up some sort of supposed fee, taxes or debt,” Miller said. “Others claim you owe a debt or failed to show up for jury duty,” Miller added. “Scammers are using intimidation and threats to try to extract money.”

While most of these scams occur by telephone, criminals may also contact Iowans by email and U.S. Mail.

  • Government Imposter Scams: The callers impersonate a federal, state or local governmental employee and often “spoof” their numbers on caller-ID displays, meaning a display may falsely display an actual or claimed government number. Callers demand immediate payment and tell recipients to use a credit card, debit card or pre-paid debit card, such as a Green Dot card.

    “The IRS doesn’t make calls like this, and nor do state and local governmental agencies,” Miller said. “If you get such a call, hang up. If you want to take an extra step to ensure you really don’t owe that governmental agency money, call the government office directly to verify.”

    In a variation of the government imposter scam, callers claim they are employees of a “loss prevention” or “loss refund” unit of a government agency and state that the recipient is entitled to a refund. The caller may ask the recipient to provide a credit card number supposedly to place the refund directly into the consumer’s credit card account. Once a recipient gives the caller credit card information, the criminal places fraudulent charges on the recipient’s account.
     
  • Debt Collection Scams: Some criminals will pose as debt collectors. They’ll claim that you owe money tied to a loan or debt and that you must pay immediately. These types of criminals are aggressive, convincing and threatening. It’s possible they accessed some information about you or a debt you may really owe, or may make up the scenario entirely.
     
  • Grandparent Scams: In this scam, callers target older people by claiming to be a grandchild with an emergency need for cash.  The callers try to convince their victims to wire a large amount of money or provide a credit, debit or prepaid card number to help pay for a sudden personal crisis, such as a car accident, medical emergency or even bail money.  Criminals sometimes glean personal information, including friends or relatives, from social networking websites like Facebook.  At other times they trick their victims into revealing the information, including names.
     
  • Lottery or Prize Scams: Criminals use both calls and emails in this scam to notify a recipient about winning an overseas lottery drawing or significant prize, even though the recipient did not enter. The criminal requests a credit card or bank account number to “deposit the winnings” or collect a “processing fee.” If the recipient provides the information, the criminal makes unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
     
  • Microsoft Technical Support Scam: Victims of this scam report being called by someone who claims he is a Microsoft technical support or "Windows support" employee, and claims that Microsoft has traced the recipient's computer as a source of malicious software (malware) that is spreading through the Internet. The caller may try to convince the recipient to download software that may sound useful, but is actually malware. This scam enables criminals to retrieve personal information such as passwords, financial information and other personal information.  Criminals can also use the software to damage a computer or leave it vulnerable to future attacks. Scammers have also requested credit card information or have directed recipients to fraudulent websites to enter credit card or other personal information.

Always the Same Demand: Pay Now
These cases almost always involve claims that you must pay now or face serious consequences. They may convince you that you are about to face a lawsuit, or may even face arrest if you don’t pay immediately. They will most often insist on payment by credit card, debit card, prepaid money cards or a money wire transfer.

“The reason these scams are so effective is because whenever you wire money or provide a caller a pre-paid money card number, a criminal can convert it into cash immediately, across the globe,” Miller said.  “Most criminals in these types of scams are beyond the reach of local, state and even federal law enforcement.”

If You Suspect a Scam
If you suspect that a caller is attempting a scam, simply hang up. If you have questions about whether the call is legitimate, ask the caller for his or her name, address and phone number, who he or she represents, the creditor, and details about the debt. If the caller refuses to provide it or claims he or she can’t provide it, then the debt collector is not legitimate. Insist that the person calling provide you with written information about the claimed debt through the U.S. Mail—not email—which is your legal right. Do not provide or confirm personal or financial information to someone who calls you, as the call may be an identity theft attempt.

How to Report a Scam

  • Victims who lost money through any scam should report the loss to local law enforcement.
  • IRS Scam: Iowans who want to verify whether they owe federal taxes or penalties should contact the IRS directly. The IRS telephone assistance number is 1-800-829-1040.
    • Iowans who were not scammed but who wish to report being contacted by an IRS impersonator can report it to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA):
    • www.treasury.gov/tigta
    • 1-800-366-4484
  • Iowans who were not scammed but who wish to report any government imposter scam contact can report it to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through the FTC Complaint Assistant at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
  • Iowans can find information about the most common scams and can file complaints through the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division website at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov.  Iowans with questions can email the Consumer Protection Division at consumer@ag.iowa.gov, or call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside the Des Moines metro area and toll-free).

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