Fraudulent calls are being received in Port St. Lucie initiated by a male pretending to be an agent of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations. according to Port St. Lucie police.
The phony agent will claim that the person called has been audited and owes back taxes. The impersonator will attempt to solicit information about how the resident filed their taxes, and will try to convince them to make an immediate online payment to satisfy the tax debt.
Citizens receiving these calls should not provide their personal or financial information to the caller, nor agree to make any payments under the caller's direction, said Master Sgt. Frank Sabol.
"This is a scam and an IRS Agent would never contact a citizen by phone to notify them of an audit or attempt to get them to make a payment for back taxes," he said.
SCAMS ON THE TREASURE COAST
The schemes come in various forms. Here are some that have victimized some of your friends, family and neighbors.
How it works: Someone agrees to mail you a check for an item you have for sale on Craigslist, but then notifies you that they accidentally wrote the check for more than they owed. They'll ask you to cash the check at your bank but send back the difference via Western Union. The bad check will take a few days to bounce, but the money is gone.
How to combat: The website advises its users not to conduct transactions through money wiring services and to deal with people in person when possible.
FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT CO.
How it works: Customers and non-customers for the power company have reported receiving bogus FPL bills in their email. The email demands payment as well as personal information. However, FPL officials said they never send emails threatening to close your account.
How to combat: The utility warns anyone who receives an FPL bill that demands personal info to ignore it. Also, delete any email asking for account numbers or passwords.
How it works: Thieves lift numbers from legitimate gift cards available for purchase in local stores. When the card is activated, they can use those numbers to make purchases and when a consumer goes to use the card, the value is already spent.
How to combat: When purchasing gift cards, never pick one from the top of the pile. And make sure the numbers on the card are hidden from view by the packaging.
How it works: Scam artists are randomly calling senior citizens, asking for "Grandma" or "Grandpa" and presenting a desperate situation they are in. The scenarios usually involve the grandchild being in jail and requiring money for bail.
How to combat: Law enforcement officials advise that when this scenario arises, ask the caller more questions to verify whether it really is a relative. You should also contact other relatives to verify the family member's whereabouts.
How it works: These are generally targeted at people nearing retirement who are interested in safeguarding cash for their retirement. Ponzi schemes promise high financial returns or dividends not possible through regular investments. Pyramid schemes encourage participants to recruit additional investors through the payment of commissions.
How to combat: Ask an unbiased third party to review any financial proposals and check out the company and its agent online.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
How it works: A person, usually male, pretends to be an agent of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations. The phony agent will claim that the person called has been audited and owes back taxes. The impersonator will attempt to solicit information about how the resident filed their taxes, and will try to convince them to make an immediate online payment to satisfy the tax debt.
How to combat: Do not provide personal or financial information to the caller, nor agree to make any payments under the caller's direction. An IRS agent would never contact a citizen by phone to notify of an audit or attempt to get them to make a payment for back taxes. Call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484. Also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their "FTC Complaint Assistant" at FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
How it works: Residents will get a call from someone claiming to be a law enforcement official who has a warrant for the person. They will want payment over the phone to forego an arrest. Sometimes, it's an unpaid traffic ticket they said needs to be paid. In recent weeks, some Treasure Coast residents said the callers have told them they're wanted for tax fraud.
How to know it's a scam: Law enforcement agencies do not make phone calls for either serving warrants or seeking payment for traffic violations.
AND SWEEPSTAKES FRAUD
How it works: The scam artist will inform a person they have won a lottery, often from another country, that can be claimed if a fee is paid.
How to combat: The Federal Trade Commission receives thousands of complaints annually about this type of fraud. Legitimate companies do not require payment or the purchase of a product to get the prize.
How it works: New Medicare cards are in the mail. At least, that's what a scam artist will tell recipients of the federal program. They'll also say they need your bank information or your Medicare number to make sure your account is set up for direct deposit.
How to combat: Never give your Medicare information out over the phone to anyone other than a physician or an approved Medicare provider.
How it works: You turn on your computer and a pop-up ad appears from the U.S. Department of Justice, warning the machine had been locked because of illegal activity, such as child pornography. The ad also includes a photo of the computer owner. The only way to unlock the computer is to put several hundred dollars on a Green Dot MoneyPak card and enter the code from the card into the blank field on the screen.
How to combat: Never respond to such ads, which are generated from a virus. Keep your anti-virus software up to date. If you do come across a virus that locks your computer, a professional computer repair company can remove it.
POSTAL, DELIVERY SCAMS
How they work: Third-party companies are offering "change of address" services to people who are moving. Signing up with them, however, results in an ongoing monthly charge of $17 to $24. You might also receive an unsolicited email about a shipment arriving at your local Federal Express asking you to click a link to print a shipping label for you to take to the store. The link, though, activates a virus that will search your computer for financial information.
How to combat: Deal directly with the U.S. Postal Service when setting up a change of address. It will only cost you $1.
How it works: You'll receive an email that you've won a contest and the company needs to verify your personal information. Links in the email can put a virus on your computer to hunt for sensitive information.
How to combat: Don't click on any of the links or attachments and delete the email. If you did click on a link, run an anti-virus scan. You can also spot a fake email by hovering your cursor over any links in the email to see if the URL leads to the business' website.
How it works: The caller identifies himself as an "advertiser to assist in buying or selling your property at no commission." The caller tells the property owner that they would advertise their property at an inflated sales price and all the owner needed to do was to give the company their credit card information or write them a check.
How to combat: Never give personal information to a stranger. Immediately report it to law enforcement. Get as much information about the caller as you can so it can be investigated.
How it works: Some Treasure Coast residents last year received mail from a company offering homeowners who had recently refinanced their homes a copy of their deed and property profiles for $83.
How to combat: Know your public records laws. Deeds are kept by your local Clerk of the Courts office and are available for free from any clerk's office website or $1 if you need a physical copy.
REVERSE MORTGAGE SCAMS
How it works: Information about homeownership is readily available through the property appraiser's website and other public documents. Reverse mortgage scams steal equity from the property of unsuspecting seniors.
How to combat: Never sign documents related to a mortgage on a home without consulting a third party, and do not sign documents you don't fully understand.
How it works: You receive an email or letter from a company in search of people who will test out customer service at a money wiring business. The scam artist sends you a check for a couple of thousand dollars to be used in the wiring exercise. You'll be instructed to keep a few hundred dollars as your payment and wire the rest. However, it's a bad check that could ruin your finances.
How to know it's a scam: Legitimate secret shopper programs exist, but they won't involve a high-dollar amount.
How it works: Reports have been made about automated teller machines that have holes drilled below the card reader. The holes would allow someone to install a device in the machine and get information on ATM cards used there.
How to combat: Officials advised ATM users to check the machines they use for tampering. If they find any, call 911.
How it works: Be it Facebook or dating websites, scammers are creating fake profiles and gradually developing online relationships with people. Eventually, they will ask someone for money for an emergency.
How to combat: Verify the person really is who they say they are before you give them
How it works: Direct deposit is available for Social Security clients. But thieves have been obtaining personal information of Social Security beneficiaries and using it to attempt to open a "My Social Security" online account on the agency's website. If successful, they use that account to redirect the deposit money to an account they control.
How to combat: If you receive a letter from the Social Security Administration that you have opened an online account and you did not, contact them immediately. You also can prevent the intrusion by setting up a "My Social Security" online account in your name before a scammer does.
How it works: Large sums of cash and great prizes are being offered by scam artists who say they're representing a sweepstakes program. They'll tell you they're in need of a processing or transfer fee of a few hundred dollars to be able to deliver the prize you "won." Some scam artists are perusing obituary listings to contact families and tell them the loved one they recently lost had been a winner.
How to know it's a scam: No purchase is ever necessary to win a legitimate sweepstakes program.
Sources: Better Business Bureau of Central Florida, Seniors vs. Crime and law enforcement agencies across the Treasure Coast, property appraiser offices