This page is meant to serve as a situational awareness tool for the citizens of Madison County and beyond. It includes trending fraud and scam activity currently being seen within the area as well as other common criminal activity perpetrated against our senior citizens. Not all scams are represented, due to the fact that unfortunately, our scammers are bound only by their imagination and ingenuity. New scams are concocted every day. Be aware, be educated, and rely upon your local police department to assist you should you encounter such a situation. Together we are better.
IRS Scam Phone Calls
This scam can either be a live caller or a recording. Both versions will include a threat of arrest if money that is allegedly owed the IRS is not paid in full in a short amount of time. A call back number is sometimes offered which will route you to a fraudster who perpetuates the scam with high pressure and scare tactics.
From the IRS Website:
IRS Special Edition Tax Tip 2015-18, October 21, 2015
The IRS continues to warn consumers to guard against scam phone calls from thieves intent on stealing their money or their identity. Criminals pose as the IRS to trick victims out of their money or personal information. Here are several tips to help you avoid being a victim of these scams:
- Scammers make unsolicited calls. Thieves call taxpayers claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via phishing email.
- Callers try to scare their victims. Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.
- Scams use caller ID spoofing. Scammers often alter caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.
- Cons try new tricks all the time. Some schemes provide an actual IRS address where they tell the victim to mail a receipt for the payment they make. Others use emails that contain a fake IRS document with a phone number or an email address for a reply. These scams often use official IRS letterhead in emails or regular mail that they send to their victims. They try these ploys to make the ruse look official.
- Scams cost victims over $23 million. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, has received reports of about 736,000 scam contacts since October 2013. Nearly 4,550 victims have collectively paid over $23 million as a result of the scam.
The IRS will not:
- Call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
- Demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe.
- Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.
If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” webpage. You can also call 800-366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:
- Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.
Phone scams first tried to sting older people, new immigrants to the U.S. and those who speak English as a second language. Now the crooks try to swindle just about anyone. And they’ve ripped-off people in every state in the nation.
Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.
Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.
Home Repair Fraud (Driveways-Roofs-Tree Cutting-Etc)
This scam commonly includes a door to door approach on the part of the scammer. A knock on the door from a stranger who claims to be in the neighborhood and to have just finished a job. The scammer states he/she has just enough product/materials to finish or repair the victim's driveway or roof and will do so for a greatly discounted rate. In some instances they agree to clean the yard or trim trees for a modest cost. Usually the work is then done poorly with inferior materials. High pressure tactics are often utilized to get more money from the victim than originally agreed upon.
Remember, only use reputable local contractors, who are willing to provide references for previous work they have completed. Consider refering to the Better Business Bureau to check the contractor for a history of fraud or deceptive practice. Do not make a decision for a home repair hastily. Remember, a reputable contractor will not be hesitant to provide all the information you request. If you are in doubt, call a family member, friend, or the local police to investigate any suspicious contractors who come to your home unannounced.
The grandparent scam
Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.
Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, in jail, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.” Often, if the scammer is successful, they will call back a second or third time requesting more money.
While the sums from such a scam are likely to be in the hundreds or thousands, the very fact that no research is needed makes this a scam that can be perpetrated over and over at very little cost to the scammer.
Sweepstakes & lottery scams
This simple scam is one that many are familiar with, and it capitalizes on the notion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces.
Sometimes the scammer will request a payment in the form of a Western Union money transfer or Green Dot gift card to unlock the "winnings".
Rule of Thumb: If it sounds too good to be true..It is!
Second Rule of Thumb: Legitimate lotteries do not call you to let you know you have won.
While using the Internet is a great skill at any age, the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.
Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) make seniors especially susceptible to such traps. One example includes:
A senior receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information. A senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund.
Telephone "Port-Out Scams"
You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of a phone “port-out” scam, because up until recently it wasn’t really a widely talked about issue. But it’s gotten serious enough that T-Mobile is sending warnings to many of its customers. Here’s a closer look at what this is and how to protect yourself from it.
What Is a Port-Out Scam?
If you want to switch cellphone carriers, you can typically bring your existing phone number with you—because who wants to get a new phone number if they don’t haveto? No one, that’s who.
Now, imagine someone walking into a carrier store (or calling them) and pretending to be you. Without the proper security measures in place, this person could pretty easily steal your phone number and take it to a new carrier, effectively shutting off your phone service and taking control of your number. That’s pretty scary.
And that’s not the only type of porting scam in the wild today—there’s also something called a SIM swap scam (also called “SIM hijacking”) that works similarly, but instead of porting your number to a new carrier, the attacker simply pretends to be you and requests a new SIM card for your account. They get the SIM, they get access to your number.
And since only one SIM card can be attached to a number at any given point, it effectively disables your current SIM card. So while the tactic is slightly different, the end result is the same: your phone is disabled and someone else has your number as their own.
Why Is this a Big Deal?
While having your number hijacked and cell service terminated sounds like a headache, the implications are much deeper. Think about it: the hijacker just took control of your phone number, so they’re going to get access to all your calls and texts. Everything meant for your eyes or ears is now in the hands of a complete stranger. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.
And your private messages are the least of your worries. What if you use your phone number to receive text messages with security codes when you log into your bank account? That person now has access to any code sent to your phone, and can access your email, bank account, credit cards, and other super sensitive info.
That’s exactly why T-Mobile has recently starting warning its customers about this issue. While it’s possible this could happen with any carrier, a flaw in T-Mobile’s system made it easier for attackers to port any number from a post-paid account to a new carrier, and some users have had their numbers compromised and their bank accounts cleaned out.
The company is doing things to correct the issue now, but it can still be a problem if you don’t know how to deal with it in the first place.
So How Do I Protect Myself?
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to protect yourself from this scam—you just need to make a quick phone call to customer service today, or make a tweak to your account online.
Basically, you need to add a security PIN to your account. The process is going to be different for every carrier (so we can’t outline them all here), but this PIN will be required to make changes to your account, which includes porting your number to a new carrier or requesting a new SIM card. Thus, it secures your account against both port-out and SIM swap scams. Good stuff.
Most carriers should let you do this online under some sort of account security setting, but if you can’t find this info online, just give them a quick call and let them know you want to add PIN security to your account. Remember, this PIN is different from the password you use when you log into your account: it’s specifically used when you walk into a store or call customer service to make changes.
Like with passwords and whatnot, choose something that isn’t easy to guess—don’t use your birthday, for example. That info isn’t hard to figure out, so it kind of defeats the purpose of setting the PIN in the first place. Once it’s in place, though, you should be better secured against this type of scam happening to you. (Credit-Cameron Summerson on February 14th, 2018, https://www.howtogeek.com/342988/what-is-a-phone-port-out-scam-and-how-can-i-protect-myself/)
Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who as a group make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average. While the image of the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may have something to do with this, it is far more likely that older people are more familiar with shopping over the phone, and therefore might not be fully aware of the risk.
With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.
Examples of telemarketing fraud include:
The pigeon drop
The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.
The fake accident ploy
The con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs the money.
Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
Fraudulent anti-aging products
In a society bombarded with images of the young and beautiful, it’s not surprising that some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate more fully in social circles and the workplace. After all, 60 is the new 40, right?
It is in this spirit that many older Americans seek out new treatments and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers. Whether it’s fake Botox like the one in Arizona that netted its distributors (who were convicted and jailed in 2006) $1.5 million in barely a year, or completely bogus homeopathic remedies that do absolutely nothing, there is money in the anti-aging business.
Botox scams are particularly unsettling, as renegade labs creating versions of the real thing may still be working with the root ingredient, botulism neurotoxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known to science. A bad batch can have health consequences far beyond wrinkles or drooping neck muscles.
Funeral & cemetery scams
The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors.
In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
Another tactic of disreputable funeral homes is to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive parts of funeral services, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.
Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams
Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value of a certain scam.
A particularly elaborate property tax scam in San Diego saw fraudsters sending personalized letters to different properties apparently on behalf of the County Assessor’s Office. The letter, made to look official but displaying only public information, would identify the property’s assessed value and offer the homeowner, for a fee of course, to arrange for a reassessment of the property’s value and therefore the tax burden associated with it.
Closely related, there is the potential for a reverse mortgage borrower to be scammed. Scammers can take advantage of older adults who have recently unlocked equity in their homes. Those considering reverse mortgages should be cognizant of people in their lives pressuring them to obtain a reverse mortgage, or those that stand to benefit from the borrower accessing equity, such as home repair companies who approach the older adult directly.
Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. From pyramid schemes like Bernie Madoff’s (which counted a number of senior citizens among its victims) to fables of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money to complex financial products that many economists don’t even understand, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people.
If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a scam…
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it with someone you trust. You are not alone, and there are people who can help. Doing nothing could only make it worse. Keep handy the phone numbers and resources you can turn to, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services. To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored national resource line, at: 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website at: www.eldercare.gov. If you reside in Madison County, Illiinois, contact your local police department or the Madison County Sheriff's Office.
Madison County Sheriff's Office
Main Dispatch: (618) 692-4433
Investigation: (618) 692-0871
Anonymous Tip-Line: (618) 296-3000