Telephone scams skyrocket in Columbus

Complaints about suspected telephone scams in Columbus soared late last week.

Almost 60 complaints were made on Thursday alone, compared to the average of three or four a day, Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said.

While local authorities aren’t disclosing how many people fell victim, Harris confirmed there are city residents who have lost several thousands of dollars this year.

Most complainants described aggressive and threatening phone calls by scammers who claim to somehow represent the Internal Revenue Service, Harris said.

In such calls nationwide, the scammer attempts to con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, according to an IRS advisory.

They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email, the advisory states.

While phone scams are nothing new, criminals now have the technology to alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling — and that’s fooling more people.

Callers, who use titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate, may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official, the IRS release stated.

One intended victim was Tipton Lakes resident Greg Dinkins, who was called by a man with a heavy Indian accent who identified himself as agent Kevin Black, assigned to badge number 100139.

The caller told Dinkins he owed $4,900 and was going to be summoned to court for tax fraud, tax evasion, willful misinformation and misapplication of funds.

While realizing all along it was a scam, Dinkins, 67, listened carefully and took notes as “Agent Black” threatened to garner his wages and social security payments, he said.

Dinkins said he turned all his information over to federal investigators.

“My fear is that those who are not aware the IRS doesn’t make phone calls would actually pay money to these deceitful scam artists,” Dinkins said.

After spending a career working in the criminal justice system, retired Bartholomew County probation officer LeAnne Anderson knew enough to keep hanging up on the IRS scammers that called her multiple times.

But since the calls were made by different people with different approaches — and the caller ID made it appear genuine — the 77-year-old Anderson said she shares the same concerns as Dinkins.

“I know a lot of people who take the IRS seriously and don’t want them on their backs,” Anderson said. “Although older residents are aware of scams, there have been so many changes in this world that they don’t know what is coming next.”

After receiving several calls claiming the IRS has filed a lawsuit against her, retired Crump Theatre manager Rovene Quigley, 88, said she also makes it a practice to hang up on scammers.

Besides the elderly, Harris said foreign-born residents in Columbus are also susceptible to falling for the scams.

“These are people who may not understand that the IRS does not cold-call residents,” Harris said. “They tend to comply out of fear of losing their legal status to work here.”

Meanwhile, the office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has received more than 10,000 complaints this year about unwanted calls and robocalls.

Zoeller urges Hoosiers to avoid nonexistent area codes, such as 000 and 123. He also warns that the Washington, D.C., area code, 202, is often used.

In addition, more than 1,500 complaints about scam sweepstakes have come from the Jamaican area code 876.

“If you don’t know the phone number and are suspicious, your best bet is to let the call go to voicemail,” Zoeller said in a statement. “If you answer, your number is more likely to be an ongoing target.”

The StatehouseFile.com contributed to this story.

Tell-tale scams signs

Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

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 phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS who is asking for money, here are some suggestions:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use its “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Most recent scams

The IRS has seen a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far in 2016.  Here are four of the most recent examples:

  • Emails are being sent that appear to be from the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, an advisory board for the IRS, about a tax refund. The senders are trying to trick unsuspecting victims into providing personal and financial information.
  • Emails that appear to be from the IRS include a link to a bogus web site intended to mirror the official IRS web site. These emails contain the direction “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately.” The emails mention USA.gov and IRSgov (without a dot between “IRS” and “gov”), though notably, not IRS.gov (with a dot).
  • A bogus email asks tax professionals to update their IRS e-services portal information and Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFINs). The links that are provided in the bogus email to access IRS e-services appear to be a phishing scheme designed to capture your username and password.
  • Payroll and human resources professionals should be aware of an emerging phishing email scheme that purports to be from company executives and requests personal information on employees.

Scammers are also calling under the guise of verifying tax return information over the phone. The scam tries to get you to give up personal information such as a Social Security number or personal financial information, such as bank numbers or credit cards.

Source: IRS

On the Web

Hoosiers can sign up for the state’s Do Not Call list by visiting IndianaConsumer.com or by calling 1-888-834-9969.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.