Above: It’s a good idea to be skeptical of phone calls that claim you owe money. Photo by Pixabay.

In the November 2018 issue of Atlanta Senior Life, I wrote about the Grandma Scam, where the goal for the scammer is to tie into the emotions of the victim by posing as a grandchild, using his or her name to convince the victim that the call is legitimate. I spoke about the “trigger” that should set off your internal alarm.

A trigger may come any time during the conversation but the clue that screams “scam” are requests for pre-paid debit or gift cards. If you recall, I said the first line of defense is to ask questions.

Most scammers have only a one-level information to pitch you, in hopes you will buy the story. The more questions you ask, the more you chip away at that level, and the sooner you realize the call is a fraud. Remember, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.

Let’s look at another popular scam — not so much targeting seniors but one that we see frequently. The IRS call comes in on a recorded line. You learn that you have “four outstanding tax issues” that call for a warrant to be issued. The local police will arrest you if you do not resolve these issues immediately.

They leave a number to call. You call and the man on the other end says he’s agent so and so. The message is clear, you need to send us pre-paid debit or other transaction cards to clear this up and you need to do this now!

Be Skeptical

If there were a reason to employ your skepticism, this is it. Two things immediately stand out about this short phone message, telling you the call is a fraud:

  1. We, the IRS, issued warrants on four outstanding tax issues. The IRS’s two favorite words are interest and Why issue a warrant for taxes owed when they can collect interest and penalties? If you owe millions and it has been a while, yes, you may be looking at criminal charges but I have a feeling this is not our target audience.
  2. The local cops are not involved with IRS enforcement. If FBI agents show up with their nice blue windbreakers and “FBI” plastered all over the back, armed with cardboard boxes to haul your computers and personal records away, the local cops will not be among them — unless they are standing in the road keeping things orderly.

Therefore, in this brief message, you can see two mistakes. Maybe you don’t see them as screaming clues. But there’s certainly enough to turn on that skeptical button giving you the green light to start asking questions including:

  1. What department are you employed by? (IRS is Treasury Department.)
  2. What office are you out of and what is the address? (Gives you something to crosscheck.)
  3. What is the office phone number so I can call and verify this conversation? (You will probably hear a click.)
  4. Why are you asking for pre-paid cards instead of a check?
  5. Aren’t you required to sing the IRS Fight Song? (I made that one up just to have some fun.)

Be the predator, not the prey. Arming yourself with good information gives you plenty of ammo to ward off scammers.

Steve Rose

Steve Rose is a retired police captain and a contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.