Time of the year for scams

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Remember the good old days?

Whenever your telephone rang, it meant someone you knew had something to ask you or something to tell you. It was almost never a stranger calling. Occasionally, someone might call you by mistake. You would politely tell them they had the wrong number. They would thank you politely and hang up. That was it.

Oh, how times have changed.

Our home phone rings almost constantly. We now screen all our calls. We never answer our home phone unless we recognize the caller’s name or the number. The rest of the calls are all robocalls from solicitors or scammers looking for money as part of some whacky telephone scam.

I counted those nuisance calls recently. In just three days, we had over 40 calls that came from unknown places. Most never leave a message. Most were from the New York area code. Several were from … well, who knows where they came from.

I’m sure every one of them wanted to sell us something or scam us out of some amount of money or some of our personal information, like bank numbers or social security numbers.

Early this year, during tax preparation season, I received the following message on our home phone answering machine. I typed it here exactly as it was recorded — mistakes and all. “We have just received a notification regarding your tax filings from the headquarters which will get expired in the next 24 working hours and once it is expired you will be taken into custody by the local cops as there are four serious allegations pressed on your name at this moment. We would request you get back to us so that we can discuss about this case before taking any legal action against you. The number to reach us is 209-301-8747. I repeat 209-301-8747.”

Like a good citizen, I reported the call to the police. They reassured me that it was a common scam. The IRS never makes this type of call. The IRS will never threaten anyone over the phone with legal action or being taken into custody by the “local cops.” The wording and the entire message were pure nonsense.

Here are a few things to bear in mind about the IRS. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, J. Russell George, “If the IRS wants a taxpayer’s attention, the first contact is generally through the U.S. mail. Also, the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order or a wire transfer. The IRS also will never ask for a credit card number or your bank information over the phone.” If any of those requests are made, it is not the IRS on the other end of the line. Hang up immediately.

According to the inspector general, “These scammers are only succeeding with a handful of victims. On average, between 30 and 40 new victims each week report that they paid the impersonators money. This is a vast improvement over the hundreds of new victims who paid money in previous years.” George says, “Do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone.”

Not just counting the IRS scam, over 5 billion scam calls are made each year in the United States. Most people either hang up or just don’t answer, but if only a small percentage are successful, millions of Americans are losing millions of dollars to these scammers, and the scammers are getting more and more clever.

Several years ago, Debbie and I signed up to be on the national “Do Not Call List.” That was a waste of time. We still get dozens of unwanted calls every day. Somehow the scammers managed to get around the “Do Not Call List” program.

Scammers have also concocted a way of changing the appearance of their number on caller ID to look like a familiar number. Debbie even noticed that they displayed our own home phone number on the caller ID. Out of curiosity, she answered the call and it was just a typical robocall. That process, displaying fake numbers on the caller-ID, is called “Spoofing.” It’s now a common practice with scammers.

Another scam that is really irritating is answering my cell phone only to hear a human voice say, “Hello. Is Don there?” Of course, you tell them they have the wrong number, but they then say, “…well, maybe you can help them.” Then they start in with their scam.

Just stop it!

Help me out. If no one every responded, if they didn’t make a dime off their scamming activity, sooner of later they might stop. Let’s make it sooner rather than later. Ignore the calls.

Hang up. Don’t ever talk to a scam caller. Maybe… just maybe, they’ll stop. Someday. Maybe.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner in Ohio.


Randy Riley

Contributing columnist