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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Aggressive callers target Idahoans in ‘IRS agent’ scam

Idahoans increasingly are being targeted by a scam in which aggressive callers claim to be IRS agents and threaten arrest, liens, and even “bodily harm” if the victims don’t pay up immediately, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reported today. “We’ve seen steady reporting of the IRS scam in the last few months,” Wasden said, as he released the annual report of his Consumer Protection Division – which received more than 800 complaints over the past year and recovered $1.9 million in restitution for wronged consumers. “The best response is to simply hang up on these crooks.”

Jennifer Pedregon of Boise, shown here, said she heard her parents’ answering machine receive a call from what sounded like a real IRS agent – including badge number and phone number to call back – saying her dad owed taxes and needed to get back to the “agent,” “otherwise further legal action would be taken within eight to 10 days.” She was concerned, but then her cell phone rang, and she received an identical call, this time threatening her rather than her father. “I realized that that was probably not a legitimate IRS agent,” Pedregon said.

Deana DuVall of Meridian got a message on her answering machine from a heavily accented caller claiming to be an IRS agent and demanding a call back on her husband’s case. When she returned the call, the man demanded her phone number; she declined. “He started yelling at me,” she said. “He said, “We will have your husband arrested in 45 minutes – we’re coming.” The man called back later that afternoon, DuVall said. “We knew it had to be fraud. But it was scary, because they knew personal things about my husband and me – we don’t know how.” Both women filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office.  

Some of the scammers have managed to mask their phone numbers so it looks like the calls come from toll-free IRS numbers; some have correctly given the last four digits of the intended victim’s Social Security number. Brett DeLange, head of the office’s Consumer Protection Division, said, “The IRS is not going to call you and say you owe money. … That’s just not how they do business. You’re going to get a notice in the mail.” He said, “The most important message is hang up, and the sooner the better – don’t talk to these people. They’re criminals.”

Idaho has been receiving steady reports of the scam statewide in recent months, though it’s been around for several years, DeLange said. It’s among an array of consumer-protection issues the office addresses. Among the highlights of the past year for the office was the successful federal antitrust lawsuit rejecting the purchase of Saltzer Medical Group by St. Luke’s Health System; that ruling is now on appeal. The division also has recovered millions for Idahoans in cases involving everything from e-books to pharmaceutical pricing to discount clubs.

Wasden said the nearly $2 million in recoveries for Idaho consumers amounts to $2.72 for each taxpayer dollar appropriated for consumer operations in 2014. The full Consumer Protection Division annual report, released today, is online here.

Attorney General warns of donation scam targeting Idaho non-profits

Idaho non-profits are being targeted in an overpayment scam, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warns. Typically, the scammer makes a very large donation to the non-profit online, like $5,000, then contacts the organization to say the large donation was a mistake - intended, for example, to have been $500 - and asks for a refund of the difference. Non-profits taken in by the scam end up without either the “refund” or the original donation. “My office has warned individual Idahoans for a number of years to be wary of offers to overpay for advertised goods or services,” Wasden said. “More recently, we have received reports of a variation on that theme targeting non-profits that receive donations online.” Wasden today issued a “consumer alert” warning Idaho non-profits about the scam; click below for his full announcement.

Scammers promise a clear criminal record

A recent string of scam calls promises Spokane County residents that a clean criminal record is just a phone call away.

Over the past several months, citizens have received calls from scammers claiming to be from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office saying there’s a warrant out for their arrest and that whoever they’re living with may be charged for harboring a wanted person, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. The caller says that if they pay a fee their record will be cleared.

When the scammers call, caller identification will display the sheriff’s office administration number. The Federal Communications Commission has released a guide to this scam method, known as “spoofing.”

The Sheriff’s Office never tells people they can pay their way out of a warrant, Deputy Craig Chamberlin said.

“We either go find them, or when we contact them and find out they have (a warrant),” Chamberlin said, “that’s when we take them to jail.”

Victims or anyone with information about the scam are asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

ISU students targets of tax prep scam

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) ― A 38-year-old Dallas man has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he conspired to falsify income tax returns for Idaho State University students. The U.S. Attorney's Office says Moses Mukuka pleaded guilty Wednesday in Pocatello to conspiracy to file false claims for a refund and making a false claim against the United States. Sentencing is set for Feb. 13. Prosecutors alleged Mukuka entered into an agreement with another person to place flyers around the ISU campus advertising himself as an accounting student who would do income tax returns for $10. Mukuka sent the students' paperwork to another individual who submitted returns to the IRS with false information designed to increase the refund. Mukuka distributed a small portion of the refund to the taxpayers and wouldn't provide them with copies of their returns.

Behind-the-times scammers pitch Nigerian letters thru faxes to Idaho

Some scammers who apparently are a bit behind the times are lighting up fax lines in southern Idaho - and elsewhere in the country - with a Nigerian letter scam pitch. “We just have been inundated since 3 p.m.,” said Robb Hicken of the Better Business Bureau in Boise. “Our phone lines are just going off the hook.”

Such scams promise riches if the recipient will just kindly help the desperate sender, usually identified as a relative of an official or member of a royal family, get a large sum of money out of his country to the U.S., for a handsome fee. In reality, victims get nothing except ripped off.

Hicken said such scams most recently have been going out by text; before that, they typically came in spam emails. Before that, faxes were more common, and before that, they arrived in the mail. “We just haven't seen fax scams forever,” he said. “Sounds like somebody bought a whole list of fax numbers.” Best advice for those who receive the pitch: Ignore it. And above all, don't send money or respond with personal information.

‘Romeos’ Lure Asotin Women Online

Online dating is leading to some broken hearts and empty bank accounts in Asotin County. Asotin County sheriff's Capt. Dan Hally said in the past year, several local women have reported virtual dating scams that involved sending a stranger money or unknowingly participating in criminal activity. In each case, the woman believed she had met the “love of her life” online, Hally said. “So many people overlook huge red flags because of an overwhelming fear of being alone. They have never met these men in real life, and they are desperate for companionship”/Kerri Sandaine, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: I know couples who met online and are happy together. But I doubt that I would trust online dating if I was single. How about you?

IRS warns seniors of tax refund scam

The Internal Revenue Service is warning senior citizens and other taxpayers to beware of an emerging federal tax refund scam tempting victims to file tax returns claiming fraudulent refunds.

Bogus refund claims have been identified across the nation. These schemes carry a common theme of promising refunds to people who have little or no income and who normally are not required to file a federal income tax return, the IRS says.

Promoters falsely claim they can obtain a tax refund or nonexistent stimulus payment for their victims based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, even if the victim was not enrolled in or paying for college, the agency says.

Typically, con artists falsely claim that refunds are available even if the victim never went to college, or attended decades ago. In many cases, scammers are targeting seniors, people with very low incomes and members of church congregations with false promises of free money.

Scammers using city-like number

The city of Spokane is warning residents that there is an on-going phone scam using phone numbers with the common city hall prefix “625.”
The call looks like it's coming from a phone at city hall, and the person is asking for personal and bank account information.
Marlene Feist, spokesperson for the city of Spokane, said in a press release this morning that no one at city hall would call and ask for bank account information.
If you receive a call like this, call Crime Check at 509-456-2233 or the Attorney General's Office at 509-458-3509

Someone is trying to get your credit card details, STCU warns

A Spokane credit union says local consumers are reporting a phone scam aimed at tricking them to reveal debit and credit card information.

The STCU phone center today is inundated with calls from credit union members and some non-members who reported receiving official-sounding automated phone calls that supposedly come from STCU.

As of 10:30 a.m., more than 100 callers contacted STCU about the phone calls, spokesman Dan Hansen said.

The calls inform the recipients that “Your debit card (or credit card) has been deactivated.” They are asked to provide their debit or credit card number, PIN and expiration date, Hansen said.

The calls appear to be blanketing the region at random, as many of the recipients are not STCU members, he added.

STCU never calls its members asking for credit or debit card information, Hansen said.

Consumers should be wary of any call or e-mail seeking credit or debit card information or other sensitive personal information, Hansen said. These contacts often are scams perpetuated by people looking to commit identity theft.

Yay, another mention in Forbes…oh, wait…

And Forbes magazine, apparently unimpressed with the official “Near nature, near perfect” city slogan in Spokane, today pronounced the Lilac City the “Scam Capital of America.”

From writer William Barrett’s story:

Welcome to Spokane, Wash., a metropolitan object lesson in what can befall the unwary when rugged individualism is revered and consumers unsuspecting.

The story paints the city as a sort of freewheeling frontier town. And I suspect it has city leaders doubling up on their blood-pressure medication this morning.