“What scammers want is money and they want it fast,” said Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton during a presentation to Rapp at Home members and friends at the organization’s Washington office.
The presentation in recent days focused on issues of interest to the county’s senior residents, during which Compton reviewed some of the current scams and ways to protect ourselves.
“A still-popular telephone scam,” she said, “involves someone impersonating an IRS agent calling to tell you [that] you owe money. They will tell you the sheriff is about to arrest you unless you pay your overdue taxes now.”
They will then insist that you either give a credit card number or go to the bank — with them still on the phone — and wire the money.
“However,” said Compton, “please know that the IRS will never call you about an issue. They will always send a letter.”
If you get a call like this, she continued, hang up and report it to the sheriff and to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC keeps track of scams and works with other government agencies to catch the perpetrators.
In another telephone scam, someone sounding like a family member or authority figure will call with an emergency, such as “your grandson has been incarcerated and needs money for bail.” Victims will be instructed to send money to the caller.
According to the FTC website, scammers are very skilled at impersonating someone you may know and inciting fear and panic.
“The natural reaction is to want to help, but don’t send them money,” said Compton.
A new scam authorities are hearing about, said Compton, involves capturing the victim’s voice characteristics. This is how it works: You answer the phone and the caller either says “Can you hear me?” Or “I’ve dropped my headset, can you wait a second?”
When you say, “Yes,” your response is recorded. That “Yes” in your own voice is then used by the scammers to impersonate you and open credit cards in your name. Compton advises that you hang up on the caller without responding.
Scammers are also looking to get access into your computers in order to steal for banking and other personal information. In one scam, a caller will claim to be a computer technician working remotely, who has detected a problem with a piece of software on your computer. The caller will ask for your username and password, in order to gain access to your machine.
Compton also described a scam involving iTunes gift cards. In this scheme, the caller will use iTunes gift cards as their preferred payment method. They will ask you to purchase a card, load money on it and then provide them with the 16-digit code. According the AARP, this scam “is a fast and virtually untraceable way to steal your money.”
Other fraudulent activities
Compton said that people who live alone are often watched and targeted by scammers.
A popular ruse is posing as a repair person, tree trimmer, or other home repair contractor. Compton told of one incident in which a resident was approached by several people claiming to be tree trimmers. While the resident was talking to one of the men, the others went around behind the house, broke in and stole items.
Compton had several suggestions for keeping fraudsters from separating us from our money:
- Never give out your credit or debit card information, computer login, social security number, or other personally identifiable information to a caller or a company you don’t know.
- If you make online purchases, pay with a credit card rather than a debit card. In the event of fraudulent use of your card, credit card companies will cover the expense, but the bank who issued your debit card won’t.
- If you suspect a caller is trying to scam you, hang up and call Compton’s office.
- If you make an appointment for a repair person or installer who has to come into your house, have someone else with you, hide your purse or wallet, and make sure your other doors are locked.
- If a stranger shows up unexpectedly and you suspect criminal intent, tell the person to get off your property. If they threaten you or refuse to leave, call the sheriff.
- Whenever you have a stranger in your house—whether you have scheduled that person or not—make sure that prescription medications are hidden. These days, with the opioid drug epidemic, said Compton, people will steal drugs from your medicine cabinet.
- Check your credit report regularly. You can get a free report from annualcreditreport.com, a company approved by the FTC. If you don’t have the Internet, call the company at 1-877-322-8228. Be aware that they will ask you for information about yourself to verify your identity.
For more information about recent consumer scams, go to https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts or call the sheriff’s office. The non-emergency line is 540-675-5300. Rapp at Home maintains a list of local home repair and technology resources that have been referred by members. Call Rapp at home at 540-937-4663 for information about these resources.
For more information, visit a previous story on telephone scams.