DARKE COUNTY — The Darke County Sheriff’s Office said it had received numerous phone calls from citizens on Monday morning and over the past week reporting a possible phone scam from the government.
“Unless you have given the caller personal information or money, you do not need to call the Sheriff’s Office or the Police Department to make a report,” read the release from the department.
Scams can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov/complaint. Below are some tips to help you recognize a government imposter and ways you can beat the scammers.
How to Recognize a Government Imposter
It could be hard to recognize an imposter through the lies they tell. They use a variety of tricks to get your attention, whether it’s distracting you with a story about money you won or creating a fear that you’ll be sued or arrested.
You might get a call or an official-looking letter that has your correct name, address and Social Security number. Often, fake debt collectors say they’re with a law firm or a government agency — for example, the FTC, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or a sheriff’s office. Then, they threaten to arrest you or take you to court if you don’t pay on a debt you supposedly owe.
The truth: There’s no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay back a debt. If you’re unsure whether the threat is legitimate, look up the official number for the government agency, office or employee (yes, even judges) and call to get the real story. Even if it is a real debt, you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Variations on these scams include people claiming to be with the IRS collecting back taxes, or scammers posing as representatives of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) who target immigration applicants and petitioners.
Ways to Beat a Government Imposter Scam
1. Don’t wire money.
Scammers often pressure people into wiring money, or strongly suggest that people put money on a prepaid debit card and send it to them. Why? It’s like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Never deposit a “winnings” check and wire money back, either. The check is a fake, no matter how good it looks, and you will owe the bank any money you withdraw. And don’t share your account information, or send a check or money order using an overnight delivery or courier service. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been cheated.
2. Don’t give the caller your financial or other personal information.
Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know who you’re dealing with. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft — charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate — but you think the collector may not be — contact the company you owe money to about the calls.
3. Don’t trust a name or number.
Con artists use official-sounding names to make you trust them. It’s illegal for any promoter to lie about an affiliation with — or an endorsement by — a government agency or any other well-known organization. No matter how convincing their story — or their stationery — they’re lying. No legitimate government official will ask you to send money to collect a prize, and they won’t call to collect your debt.
To make their call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code. So even though it may look like they’re calling from Washington, D.C., they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
4. Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
OK, so this won’t stop scammers from calling. But it should make you skeptical of calls you get from out of the blue. Most legitimate sales people generally honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get. Register your phone number at www.donotcall.gov.
Report the Scam to the FTC
If you get a call from a government imposter, file a complaint at www.ftc.gov/complaint. Be sure to include:
• date and time of the call.
• name of the government agency the imposter used.
• what they tell you, including the amount of money and the payment method they ask for.
• phone number of the caller; although scammers may use technology to create a fake number or spoof a real one, law enforcement agents may be able to track that number to identify the caller.
• any other details from the call.