West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey recently released an urgent consumer warning to all Mountain State residents about impostor phone scams. Criminals have been using numbers from the West Virginia phone book to call residents throughout the state. Posing as representatives from the Attorney General's office, the scammers demand immediate payment of unpaid taxes. Consumers are threatened with arrest as a consequence of not paying, making many off-guard consumers react quickly and send money via wire transfers and pre-paid debit and gift cards.
Impostor scams can be incredibly convincing, thanks to clever con artists and caller ID spoofing, and they take on many shapes and forms. These are the most common types of impostor phone scams:
- IRS Phone Scam: The caller claims to be an officer with the Internal Revenue Service. They may give you credentials, such as badge number, but do not believe them. The IRS will never call you and demand payment, they always send you a certified letter via snail mail and give you the opportunity to dispute the amount you owe. The caller may pretend not to be calling from the IRS, but calling from your state's Attorney General or the police department and requesting payment on taxes. These are all the same scam and should be hung up on, blocked, and reported.
- Charity Phone Scam: The caller claims to be calling from a charity and asking for donations. The type of charity could range from a breast cancer foundation to a natural disaster relief fund. Another common charity phone scam is callers asking for donations to your local police or fireman's fund, the caller will conveniently leave out the city that they are calling from. It's best to tell these callers that you will call back if you'd like to make a donation, hang up, and do some research. Phony charities will use these boiler room telemarketing techniques to steal from kind-hearted individuals.
- Utility Phone Scam: The caller claims to be calling from your local utility company and states that they never received your last payment and your lights or heat will be turned off immediately if payment is not received. These types of scams seem to be most common during the winter months.
- Tech Support Phone Scam: The caller claims to be calling from Windows, Dell, Google or some other tech giant. They tell you that your computer has been infected with a virus and that they can help you solve this problem. In reality, these scammers will either have you download a malicious malware on your PC, will charge you for a service that did nothing, or will steal your personal information. In many cases, it's all three. Another variation of this scam involves you receiving a pop-up on your computer that states that it's infected and you must call a certain number to fix the issue.
These are just a few of the most common impostor phone scams that are out there. There are so many variations that it's important to always be on the defense when you receive an unsolicited, unknown call.
How to protect yourself
The majority of scam calls will all have distinctive characteristics:
- They will ask for personal information, including home address, bank account or credit card information.
- They say the situation is urgent.
- They will demand immediate payment via a wire transfer service, like MoneyGram, or prepaid debit or gift cards. The caller will often state that you cannot hang up the phone until payment is received or they will send police.
- They instruct you not to tell anyone what is happening to you.
If any caller takes any of these actions, hang up and report them. You can report scam phone calls to your state's Attorney General, local authorities, and the FTC or TIGTA (if it's an IRS phone scam).