Recently on Facebook, I came across this article, which talks about one of those fake call centers in India that has been scamming people by pretending to be from the IRS. This particular call center finally got caught, and 70 people have been arrested for cheating Americans out of millions of dollars. I was quite surprised that this actually happened. I've always heard that telephone scams like these can be so difficult to track down, especially when they're from overseas.
But I was also very pleased. I find scams like these to be the most reprehensible non-violent crimes one can commit. They don't just take your money, but also your dignity and your faith in humanity. They leave you feeling like a fool for trusting a fellow human being, which can subsequently cause you to doubt yourself and other people from that point on. However, If you fall for one of these scams, there is really no need to feel embarrassed. These people know what they're doing and are trained to catch you off-guard. This sort of thing can happen to anyone.
And that is why I am posting this. Having done more research on this topic than I care to admit, and having received several scam calls myself, I have come up with ways to detect them. I am by no means an expert on this, but I think these tips can be helpful, albeit difficult to notice if you're caught off-guard. So without further ado, here are my anecdotal tips on how to spot a scammer, divided by category:
IRS Scammers - The tips on IRS scammers may sound like no-brainers. But again, these people rely on their victims to be caught off-guard. Otherwise they are quite uneducated in their approach, and perhaps the main reason they are successful is because of how powerful buzzwords like ‘IRS’, ‘lawsuit’, and ‘jail’ can be.
1. If the agent calling you identifies himself as John Smith, but has a foreign accent, he is also a scammer.
2. The IRS does not call you. If you are being audited, they will send you a notice via certified mail.
3. You will not find out about any lawsuit pending against you without first finding out that you are being audited. Being audited and being charged with a crime are two different things.
4. The IRS will never ask you to pay your fine over the phone with a gift voucher. Also, keep in mind that if you pay off an IRS agent, that is also a crime. Paying back taxes requires official paperwork.
5. No IRS agent will threaten you with being arrested if you don't pay over the phone. That is extortion. Also, the IRS has no control over the police. They certainly can't issue warrants or cancel them depending on your compliance.
6. The police will not arrest you for not paying your taxes. We don't have debtors prisons in the U.S. They certainly won't be sent to your house if you fail to pay what you owe over the phone.
7. If the agent asks for your lawyer's information, keep in mind that he/she is your accuser. Just like anyone else that files a lawsuit, the IRS has lawyers that represent them. Only their lawyers should be asking for your lawyer's information. The purpose is to get you to admit that you don't have a lawyer, at which point these scammers offer to find you a lawyer for a small fee. When you file a lawsuit against someone, you don't offer to find a lawyer. Neither does the IRS.
8. Oftentimes, they will leave you an automated message on your voicemail. If you call them back and they answer by saying, "IRS," they are scammers. An IRS agent will say the full name, and they certainly won't say "department" at the end. There is no such thing as the IRS Department.
9. IRS scammers don't let you get a word in edgewise. They just start rattling off the charges, and if you ask them a question, they tell you in a harsh tone to wait until the very end to ask questions. Sometimes they'll preemptively tell you not to ask questions until the end.
Tech Support Scammers - These people can be pretty sly, but they commit some significant mistakes that can help you detect them.
1. Real tech support agents do not call you to help you fix your computer. Even if there has been a nationwide security breach, they won't call each Windows user to fix the problem. Think of how impractical it would be if they were to call each and every Windows user to spend up to an hour installing some security software that can easily be advertised and downloaded via automated email. If the issue does need to be resolved over the phone, it is always your responsibility to call them.
2. When you call real technical support, the agent always asks for your computer's serial number or product number. This information proves that you're using their product and enables them to help you. Tech support scammers that call you don't need this information, so they don't ask for it. All they need is the URL that gives them control over your computer.
3. After verifying your computer's product information, real technical support agents offer to fix the problem and ask permission to take control of your computer. Tech support scammers do neither. After failing to verify your computer's product information, they tell you to turn on your computer, then start rattling off instructions and ordering you to give them control of your computer.
4. Much like the IRS scammers, tech support scammers don't let you speak. If you ask them a question, they simply repeat that there is a problem with your computer and they need you to let them fix it.Bail Money Scammers - Essentially, bail money scammers will call and claim to be a relative being held in jail. They’ll ask you to transfer money to somebody’s account in order to bail them out. The tips below should help spot these people.
1. The caller will identify themselves by first getting you to identify them. For example:
Scammer: “Hey Grandpa! It’s me.”
Grandpa: “Who is this? Is this Joe?”
In short, always ask them to identify themselves before you start playing the guessing game. If they won't give you a name, it's a scam.
2. The caller will ask you to transfer money to an account number given them by the police officer. It isn't uncommon for a person under arrest to ask their relative to bail them out, but any arrangements to actually pay the money will not be made through the arrestee.
I hope this has helped. I hope the lot of you have read this far. Falling for these scams can be pretty embarrassing, but like I said at the beginning, it happens to the best of us. Don't be ashamed. The best thing you can do is chalk it up to experience and share it with others so it doesn't happen to them. And of course, report the number online so that other people are aware, and so the real authorities can track them down.