Who are these imposters?

IRS-phone-scam-prevent-fraud.jpg

Photo: IRS.gov

via Moak: Who are these imposters?, clarionledger.com

Every day, Mississippians get calls from people who claim to be something they’re not. In past columns, I’ve written many times about various ways scammers dupe victims into sending money, turning over key pieces of their identity, or participating in international schemes. Nearly every time, the person getting the call ends up holding the bag, losing their life savings, or unwittingly helping someone commit a crime.

Fraudulent calls are rampant. Just last week, my own elderly parents called to tell me they’d gotten a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, saying they owed back taxes, and threatening them with prosecution if they didn’t pay up immediately. The only problem: These are all lies (my folks knew better, and didn’t take the bait.) The IRS is not going to call anybody to demand immediate payment, and in fact, if they have a beef with you, you’re going to get a lot of “snail mail” first.

This type of scam has become so prevalent it’s risen to become the top source of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, with volume rising sharply in the past two years. Many of these schemes originate overseas, making it that much more difficult to stop and prosecute.

Other “imposter” schemes include:

The Grandparent Scam. This is where a crook calls an elderly person, pretending to be their grandchild (or claiming to be their lawyer, or a police officer). The criminal tries to get the grandparent to wire money or even purchase things like iTunes gift cards, to help their grandchild out of trouble.

Tech Support Scams. The potential victim gets a call from someone claiming their computer is infected with a virus, and that if they pay up, it can be fixed over the phone.

Government Agencies Scams. It may be the IRS, or Social Security, Medicare or any number of other agencies, but they’re all the same; the scammer indicates there is some problem, which will go away if you send cash.

Online Dating Scams. You might think the beauty (or hunk) you’re corresponding with online is all he or she claims to be. They say all the right things, and you think you’ve met your soulmate. But often, it’s just a ruse. In the worst cases, they are actually grooming you so they can steal your money or identity.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released a new series of videos and informational pieces called “Imposter Scams.” For the first time, they’ve taken a wide-lens approach to helping bring these schemes to light and empower people with the means to recognize them.

It would be a good idea to spend a few minutes perusing the videos. They’re short (less than a minute), concise and easily understood.

But regardless, if you get a call from anyone claiming you have a problem that can be fixed with an immediate payment over the phone, don’t take the bait. Remember that such calls are usually from imposters who want you to panic and make decisions you wouldn’t normally make. If you think there might be some truth to the caller’s claims, ask for their contact information, then hang up and try to verify the information yourself. If you do need to make an emergency payment, get some advice, and never wire money to an unknown account, or give anyone the information they need to access your bank or credit card accounts. And, if someone threatens you, report the threat immediately to local law enforcement.

Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves, keep an eye on those who might be vulnerable, and not make it easier for crooks to find victims. Visithttp://1.usa.gov/25EGrBE to view the “Imposter Scams” materials.

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