Actually, any season is the season to watch out for phone scams, but there is one ongoing now that the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office is alerting residents about. Since September, more than 20 people have contacted the Sheriff’s Office about this phone scam, and at least four people have fallen victim, losing up to $5,000 each.
Via the telephone, victims are told they owe money to the IRS or they have a warrant that must be paid promptly through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, the caller then threatens the victim with arrest and/or deportation.
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, Clancy Blakemore of Three Rivers returned home to a message on her answering machine that stated, “The IRS has filed a suit against you…” and was told to call a phone number with a 209 area code.
“I was certain this was a scam,” said Clancy, who is a volunteer with the Sheriff’s Department. “But I did check with our tax office. They assured me it was a scam.”
On Friday, Dec. 18, Kamala Harris, California attorney general, issued a consumer alert urging older Californians to be on the lookout for the “Grandparent Scam” and other scams targeting seniors and others that have been reported to the California Department of Justice. During the holidays, older Californians are especially vulnerable to scams perpetrated by individuals who prey on their good will. According to estimates from the AARP, fraud costs American seniors billions of dollars a year.
“The perpetrators of these cruel scams and fraudulent schemes prey on the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren,” said Attorney General Harris. “My office will continue to work with AARP and our law enforcement partners to educate Californians about the threat of these scams and to prosecute those who victimize our families, friends and neighbors.”
“AARP is committed to helping older Californians protect their financial well-being by arming them with knowledge,” said AARP California State Director Nancy McPherson. “That’s why we’re proud to join Attorney General Harris and the Department of Justice in spreading the word about these nefarious schemes.”
Be on the Look out for These Scams
- The “grandparent scam” is a common scam targeting older Californians. In this scheme, scam artists pretend to call on behalf of a relative – often a grandchild – who purportedly needs money. Scammers will create stories of this relative being in jail or stranded in a far away city. Conveniently, the scam artists will insist that you do not have time to call anyone or that your relative does not want you to alert anyone about their circumstance. Remember, scammers often depend on creating a false sense of urgency. Do not send money or offer any help without first calling other family members to make sure that the emergency is real. If the caller says your relative is being held in jail, call the jail or police station yourself to make sure your relative is there and ask for the amount of money needed for bail.
- Some scammers pretend to be from the IRS. These scammers will call you and say that you owe the IRS money and that you will go to jail if you do not pay immediately. Again, notice that the caller is creating a false sense of urgency. The IRS will first send you a letter before attempting to contact you. The IRS will never call and ask for money and threaten to send you to jail. Moreover, the IRS will never ask you for personal information through email. If you receive such an email, delete it – it is from a scammer. You can report potential fraud to the IRS and Treasury Department at 1-800-366-4484 or https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.
- Similar to the IRS scheme is the debt collector scam. Here, con artists pretend to be debt collectors and say that if you do not pay immediately, you will go to jail. Again, note the sense of urgency the scammers try to create. Under state and federal law, it is illegal for debt collectors to threaten to send you to jail if you do not pay a debt. You will not go to jail if you do not pay them money. If you receive such a call, you should immediately report it to the California Attorney General’s Office at http://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.
- Finally, if you receive a telephone call or email giving you news that is too good to be true, like winning the lottery or making easy money from home, it is likely just that – too good to be true! Do not share your personal information with these scammers.
How to Avoid Being a Victim
Attorney General Kamala D. Harris offers the following tips for older Californians to avoid becoming a victim of these scams:
- The most important thing to remember is that scammers rely on pressuring people to act quickly. By instilling a false sense of urgency, scammers take advantage of the good will of senior citizens who want to help their family and friends. Remember that you can take your time and do your research before sending money or personal information to another individual.
- Remain vigilant and be wary of calls or emails from people who you do not know asking for money or for personal information. Just because someone knows things about you or your family does not mean that you should trust them. The Internet, including websites like Facebook and other social networks, can give scam artists all of the information they need to pretend to be a trusted family friend.
Additional Consumer Resources
Consumers can file a complaint with the Department of Justice by using the following form: http://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company
Consumers can find additional information regarding fraud targeting seniors through AARP Foundation ElderWatch: