(Boise) – Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is asking Idahoans to be aware of an increase in scams targeting state residents.
The alert comes after a surge in so-called imposter scams. These scams vary, but always include a scammer pretending to be someone they’re not in order to get money from the target.
“Staff in my office’s Consumer Protection Division have recently seen a significant increase in the number of Idahoans who have been targeted with imposter scam calls,” Wasden said. “While these scams are not new, I want to make sure all Idahoans are prepared in case their phone rings and there’s a scammer on the other end of the line.”
The following scams – or variations of them – are common in Idaho:
- Grandparent scam: This scam targets grandparents. A caller poses as a grandchild in legal trouble, often in a foreign country. The caller asks the grandparent to help get them out of trouble by sending money via gift cards, money order, iTunes cards, etc.
- IRS scam: A caller purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service claims the target owes back taxes. The tax problems will disappear, the scammer says, if the recipient of the call pays the taxes via gift cards, iTunes cards, etc. NOTE: The IRS initiates contact via U.S. mail. If you receive a call from someone saying they’re from the IRS, hang up. If you have any concerns about your taxes, initiate contact with IRS to inquire.
- Social Security Number scam: A caller pretends to be a government official or law enforcement officer and claims someone in another state is using the target’s Social Security Number. The caller may even be able to recite the last four digits of the target’s SSN. The recipient of the call is then asked to share the rest of their SSN to confirm that the “official” on the other end of the line has made contact with the correct person. The main goal of this particular scam is to steal the victim’s identity.
- Idaho Power/utilities scam: This scam usually targets small businesses – often restaurants. A scammer pretends to be from the utility company and, because of past-due bills, threatens to cut off service unless payment is made immediately. Idaho Power encourages recipients of these calls to hang up and call its customer service line at 208-388-2323.
- Publisher’s Clearing House scam: The caller tells the target they’ve won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes or another, similar prize. In order to cover the related fees and taxes upfront, the “winner” must send money – often several thousand dollars – right away.
- Arrest warrant scam: The caller claims a warrant has been issued for the target’s arrest, but if he or she pays the imposter, the warrant will disappear.
- Jury duty scam: The caller pretends to be a local official notifying the recipient of the call that they recently missed jury duty. In order to avoid large fines and/or stiffer punishment, the target must send payment immediately.
- Microsoft/Apple tech scam: A scammer calls the victim and claims the person’s computer is infected with a virus. The call may come after the victim clicks on a link on Facebook and a popup warning appears on the computer screen. The scammer pretends to be with “tech support” and promises to fix the computer for payment, often $499. A consumer should never click on questionable links that pop up and claim the consumer’s computer is infected.
Payment form is a huge red flag
If you’re being asked to send payment in the form of gift cards, iTunes cards, prepaid cards from companies like Visa, Mastercard or green dot, you’re almost certainly the target of a scam. Scammers prefer these types of payments because they’re untraceable and impossible to recoup, Wasden says. Though an older trick, some scammers also ask for wire transfers through companies like Western Union or MoneyGram.
What are other signs of scams?
Many scammers are located overseas and English is not their primary language. Broken English and oddly worded messaging are signs you’ve been contacted by a scammer. Also, scammers often use computer-generated messaging in their phone calls. This is likely a means of trying to hide poor language skills or accents that might blow their disguise. Threats and pressure to act immediately are also telltale signs.
Who do scammers target?
Everyone. But scammers tend to find more success with older Idahoans. Some scams, though, have been effective in targeting young people.
What to do if you’re contacted
Treat each call from an unknown number with skepticism. Let unknown calls go to voicemail and hang up on suspicious callers immediately.
Wasden: Help get the word out
“Please consider sharing this information with those who are most vulnerable,” Wasden said. “For instance, if you know of a senior who could be prone to the grandparent scam, consider having a conversation with them to make sure they understand how it works. Education is the most effective tool in combating imposter scams.”
The Attorney General is also partnering with the Idaho State Broadcasters Association and radio stations across the state to raise awareness of imposter scams. The project will consist of an extensive Public Service Announcement campaign in the first quarter of 2019.
If you have questions about these or other scams, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 208-334-2424 or toll free at 1-800-432-3545.
Actual scam examples.