DOBSON — In the past week, local authorities have learned of several new scams going around the county.
One scam uses the sheriff’s own face to help sell it. Another uses the threat of the IRS to scare people into action. And a third relies on sympathy.
Most of these particular scams usually target elderly people, said Lt. J.D. Briles, of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. The criminal may rely on fear and intimidation or they play on the victims’ heartstrings, such as saying a grandchild is in trouble and needs immediate assistance.
Last week, Sheriff Jimmy Combs learned that a photo of him in uniform was being used as part of an attempt to reach potential victims via Facebook Messenger.
This is a variation of an old scam where the con artist tries to obtain personal information and solicit the sending of money, according to Combs.
The message appears to be sent from Sheriff Combs complete with his photograph and provides a telephone number to contact which is not associated with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. The message further states that if the potential victim sends $7,000 they will receive $250,000 in return via Federal Express.
Detectives of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office have been assigned to attempt to determine the origin of the scam and those responsible. Sheriff Combs emphasizes that this is a scam and recommends that people receiving such an email, text message, or Facebook Message, do not follow any links or contact any provided telephone numbers. The Sheriff’s Office states individuals should take appropriate actions within their Facebook account to block the sender from the friends list and make appropriate notifications to Facebook regarding the fraudulent account.
In another ruse callers posing as agents with the IRS contact taxpayers using fake names and fictitious IRS badge numbers. These callers advise folks that that they owe back taxes and are required to make immediate payment via wire transfers or credit card payments.
These callers often have personal information of their targets such as the last four digits of their Social Security number. Targets are often threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of business or driver’s licenses. The callers sometimes threaten to send local law enforcement to affect an immediate arrest of the targets. These callers are also known to leave voicemail messages for targets who are not at home at the time of the call. The scammers often leave an urgent callback request.
“People do have an inherent fear of the IRS,” said Lt. Briles. In some of the cases, he said, “they knew they had some tax issues and thought it could be realistic.” Perhaps the taxpayers had filed an extension because they couldn’t get their tax returns in by April 15. Or perhaps they submitted returns but thought they might owe something once the returns were processed.
“So that plays on their fears that they may have some issues,” he said.
Then the caller sometimes throws in that the sheriff could send someone out to arrest folks and hold them for four days, said Briles. If that happens, the caller says, there will be legal fees and court costs in addition to the IRS penalties. But if they follow instructions now, it will be cheaper.
The IRS is aware of this continuing scam and offers additional information on their website WWW.irs.gov.
The IRS website states that the IRS will never:
• call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill;
• demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe;
• require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card;
• ask for credit or debit card numbers over the telephone; or
• threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Also be aware of similar scams via email. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email and they never request personal or financial information. The IRS requests that IRS email scams be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not click on any links included in such scam emails.
A wide variety of scams are asking people to make payments over the phone for things such as taxes, hospital bills, bail money, debt collection and utility bills. The scams are committed using many methods, including prepaid Visa debit cards, Amazon gift cards and iTunes gift cards.
As the iTunes gift card angle is new, the sheriff’s office wanted to make sure the public is aware.
Regardless of the scam’s particulars, the calls tend to follow a certain formula: The victim receives a call instilling panic and urgency to make a payment by purchasing iTunes gift cards from the nearest retailer (convenience store, electronics retailer). After the cards have been purchased, the victim is asked to pay by sharing the 16-digit code on the back of the card.
It’s important to know that iTunes gift cards can be used only to purchase goods and services on the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, or for an Apple Music membership.
“If you’re approached to use the cards for payment outside of the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, or Apple Music, you could very likely be the target of a scam and should immediately report it to your local police department as well as the FTC,” said the sheriff’s office. Scams can be reported at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Briles cautions people to never provide the numbers on the back of the card because once those numbers are provided, the funds on the card likely will be spent before the victim can contact Apple or law enforcement. Purchases with the cards are untraceable.
‘Grandma, it’s me’
Scammers pulling off the Grandparent scam have found a new way to get their money.
Crooks call and pretend to be a loved one (such as a grandchild) to convince the victim into purchasing Apple iTunes gift cards to supposedly bail a grandchild out of jail on DWI charges.
In one case elsewhere in North Carolina, the grandparent purchased 52 Apple iTunes gift cards over three days, each card loaded with $500. The scammer, still masquerading as the grandchild, got the grandparent to read off the numbers on the back of the cards over the telephone and made off with $26,000.
Another variation has the criminal pretending to be a cop and advising the elderly person that the grandchild has been arrested as the result of an automobile accident. The caller states that the grandparent must make payment to prevent the child from going to jail.
A second call is then received from a scammer posing as an attorney who is threatening a large civil action for the injuries caused to their client from the accident. The scammer agrees to settle the suit for a much smaller sum of money providing the funds are sent immediately.
Scammers are constantly looking for new methods to update old cons. Traditionally, the grandparent scam asks victims to wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram. Now, some scammers have started demanding payment via prepaid credit card, reloadable debit card or gift card.
The idea of paying a fee or bill with an iTunes or prepaid Visa card sounds off to many, and would send up red flags, but maybe not to the elderly, cautioned Briles.
In March, Duke Han, an associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, said that his research has led him to believe that changes due to aging to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (which processes value, decision-making and fear) make the elderly more susceptible to scams.
To protect oneself and loved ones from the grandparent scam and similar frauds, Briles advises:
• Hang up on calls from “grandchildren” or others who claim to be in trouble. Call back on a number you know is really theirs, such as their cell phone.
• Be deeply suspicious whenever someone contacts you and demands that you send money quickly, regardless of method.
• Be aware that cops do NOT take payment for criminal or civil fines and will never ask you to send payment.
• If you receive one of these calls, report it to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov. Scams also can be reported at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.