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Just hang up the phone: Scams continue to grow, don't be tricked

It's best to simply hang up the phone if you do not know the number and if the caller sounds suspicious, like it could be a scam—because most likely it is.

At one time or another, everyone with a phone—smartphone or landline—has had at least one call in their lifetime of someone trying to scam them. Whether it is a caller impersonating a grandchild needing money to get out of jail or pretending to be a law enforcement officer threatening to arrest people on warrants if they don't pay up, the number of scams are endless and each year there seems to be a new scam.

And the Brainerd lakes area is no different than anywhere else, with residents seeing their fair share of scam calls.

"The number of scams continues to grow," Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said Thursday, March 14. "A lot of people are just hanging up on them, which is good. We encourage people to report them to us when they get a call so we can hear what the new scams are so we can alert the public. Even if they're the old scams, we want to hear about it. These callers are always finding a new way to put a new spin on a scam."

Goddard advises citizens if they are on the phone with someone, who is asking for money for a charity for instance, and they think it may or may not be legitimate, they should hang up, look the number up themselves and call back to make sure it is truly the organization the person stated.

"A lot of times they are using prefixes that are like ours like the 839 to get people to pick up the phone," Goddard said. "They get their number to appear local and start calling.

"This time of year, the more common calls relating to scams are the IRS as it's tax season."

The IRS Wednesday issued a news release encouraging taxpayers to be alert to scam groups masquerading as charitable organizations. Using a tax deduction as bait, these fake charities often lure victims into making ineligible donations, ultimately leaving the unsuspecting donor in the lurch, the release stated.

"Scam artists commonly use charities as a cover to lure honest people into providing money and sensitive personal information," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig stated in the release. "Protect yourself, and make sure you are dealing with a reputable group before making a donation."

Fake charities are one of the "Dirty Dozen" tax scams for 2019.

Compiled annually, the "Dirty Dozen" lists a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter all year-round. Many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire others to prepare their taxes.

Perpetrators of illegal scams can face significant penalties, interest and possible criminal prosecution. To help protect taxpayers, IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them, the news release stated.

The IRS states impersonation of charitable organizations is another long-standing type of abuse or fraud involving scams occuring in the wake of significant natural disasters. The IRS encourages taxpayers to donate to recognized charities established to help disaster victims. Following major disasters, it's common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers.

Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information, a news release stated. And bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims.

Another trick by scam artists is directly contacting disaster victims and claiming to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

The IRS will never ...

• Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

• Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.

• Demand that taxes be paid without giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

• Call about an unexpected refund.

IRS offers advice on making charitable donations

• Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites sounding or looking like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Tax Exempt Organization Search at https://tinyurl.com/y84b96ja allowing people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Number, if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy through the IRS search tool.

• Don't give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal identities and money from victims. Donors often use credit cards to make donations. Be cautious when disclosing credit card numbers to those seeking a donation. Confirm those soliciting a donation are calling from a legitimate charity.

• Don't give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way providing documentation of the donation.

• Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, available on IRS.gov. This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making tax-deductible donations. Among other things, it provides complete details on what records to keep which helps taxpayers at tax time.

• People may report suspected fraudulent activity to the IRS on Form 13909, Tax Exempt Organization Referral (Complaint), also found on the IRS website.

Scams threatening arrest

Scam artists don't only impersonate charity organizations. Goddard said the sheriff's office dislikes when the scam artists impersonate a law enforcement officer. He said it is easy for scam artists to go the county's website and get information on staff and use it for their advantage. Law enforcement would never call anyone to state there is a warrant out for their arrest if they don't pay money.

The Drug Enforcement Administration urged its DEA-registered practitioners and members of the public to be cautious of telephone calls from criminals posing as DEA or other law enforcement personnel threatening arrest and prosecution for supposed violations of federal drug laws or involvement in drug-trafficking activities, a news release stated Thursday.

The DEA continues to receive reports from practitioners and the general public, alike, indicating they have received calls threatening legal action if an exorbitant fine is not paid immediately over the phone. The callers typically identify themselves as DEA personnel and instruct their victims to pay the "fine" via wire transfer to avoid arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

The reported scam tactics are continually changing, but often share many of the following characteristics:

• Callers use fake names and badge numbers or, alternatively, names of well-known DEA senior officials.

• The tone of calls is urgent and aggressive; callers refuse to speak or leave a message with anyone other than the person for whom they are calling.

• Callers threaten arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, and in the case of medical practitioners, revocation of their DEA numbers.

• Callers demand thousands of dollars via wire transfer or, in some instances, in the form of untraceable gift cards taken over the phone.

• Callers falsify the number on caller ID to appear as a legitimate DEA phone number.

• Callers will often ask for personal information, such as Social Security number or date of birth.

• When calling a medical practitioner, callers often reference National Provider Identifier numbers and/or state license numbers. They also might claim patients are making accusations against the practitioner.

DEA personnel will never contact practitioners or members of the public by telephone to demand money or any other form of payment, a news release stated. DEA will not request any personal or sensitive information over the phone. Notification of a legitimate investigation or legal action is made via official letter or in person. Impersonating a federal agent is a violation of federal law.

Anyone receiving a telephone call from a person purporting to be a DEA special agent or other law enforcement official seeking money should refuse the demand and report the threat using the online form or by calling 877-792-2873. Reporting scam calls will greatly assist DEA in investigating and stopping this criminal activity.

Any urgent concerns or questions, including inquiring about legitimate investigations, should be directed to the local DEA field division. To report scam activity online, visit https://tinyurl.com/yyp99g9c. For contact information for DEA field divisions, visit www.dea.gov/domestic-divisions.

Jennifer Kraus

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