I tell people NOT to answer the phone unless they recognize the person calling. Crafty crooks know you're screening your calls, so they're doing anything to get you to pick up.
They're even impersonating the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. Thanks to Mary of Colorado Springs who told me about a call she took last week around 7:20 a.m.
She told me her Caller ID read: 719-390-5555, which is the main, non-emergency number for dispatchers with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. She felt compelled to answer.
Mary was told that a police officer with the sheriff's office was looking for her because of a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Mary was given a Washington, D.C. number to call and was told to ask for Shawn Woods.
Mary called the number, 202-754-8404, and "Shawn" answered immediately. He told her he needed her Social Security number to proceed. She told Shawn she didn't feel comfortable giving it out, and Shawn hung up on her. Mary then called the sheriff's office and learned it was a sham. She told me, "I was pretty nervous. What do you mean the IRS is looking for me? It really did bother me."
Mary now knows crooks tried to pull one over on her. I told her this is a variation of the IRS scam.
In previous cases I've investigated, victims have been instructed to wire money or buy Green Dot reloadable prepaid cards to pay off their alleged IRS debts. They learned too late that the IRS doesn't operate that way. I can see why Mary was unnerved: The crooks knew her full name, knew that she lived in El Paso County, Colorado, and spoofed a real phone number associated with her local sheriff's office. Technology allows them to display any number on your Caller ID.
Jacqueline Kirby with the El Paso County Sheriff's office said, "What they will do is exhaust one scam until it doesn't work anymore, then they'll try to put a spin on it." Kirby's glad Mary didn't give the stranger her Social Security number because it's a key component of identity theft. She says the El Paso County Sheriff's Office doesn't work for the IRS.
Kirby says to clear up a warrant, you must physically show up in person at the Criminal Justice Center and prove who you are. She says you will never be called and asked to handle it over the phone. She wants folks to know con artists are always coming up with new ways to trick you.
Here are a few red flags to remember. First, sheriff's officials are known as deputies, not police officers. The vocabulary the bad guys used with Mary was wrong. Also, sheriff's deputies will never call on behalf of the IRS. And, the IRS will never call and threaten to arrest you. You will get a notice in the mail, asking you to respond. Then, you will be given plenty of time to present your side. You will never be pressured to pay up or else.
Contact Betty Sexton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-0000.