Sheriff reports phone scams: Says fake IRS agents demand money

Published 12:53 pm Thursday, March 21, 2019

Once again, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office is getting reports of con artists attempting to scam people out of their money.

This time, people are getting phone calls from someone claiming to be an IRS agent or from the Social Security office and that the person needs to pay back taxes or they were overpaid on a health claim. And that money has to be paid immediately with a pre-paid card.

“That’s not how the IRS works, that isn’t how Social Security works, that isn’t how anyone works,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless. “You’d think that with the numerous stories about this, that people wouldn’t fall for these things. But people fall for it every day.”

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Lawless said that the scam caller does sound like someone with authority and they are very threatening during the call. One of their favorite targets is the elderly who may not be aware that the scams are so common.

Lawless said that he spoke with a woman who was targeted by a scam artist recently and she explained their technique.

“It started off that it was a tax scheme, you know ‘We’re the IRS, you owe us money, it has to be paid,’” Lawless said. “It’s tax return time and all these idiots know that people have gotten their returns, so they are trying to steal it off them.”

He said the woman did not fall for it, even after they demanded immediate payment with a pre-paid credit card.

“They wanted her to go to Kroger and get a card loaded up and then come back with a card number,” Lawless said. “She was on the phone with them for quite a while and she was almost taken in before she started noticing red flags.”

He said the scam artists called a couple more times and repeated their demands before giving up.

Lawless said that another popular scam is the “Grandchild in Jail” scam. He said his office hasn’t had any reports of that particular scam in Lawrence County recently but a couple of other law enforcement agencies have reported an uptick in the calls in their areas.

The scam is that an elderly person gets a phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild who has been jailed and they need money for bail.

Lawless said there are endless variations on the phone scams.

“There are numerous ones and they change it up to fit whatever is going on at the time,” he said. “These guys are pretty slick. Sometimes, they will research your Facebook page and know the names of your relatives and other details.”

Sometimes, the scammers research a person’s area and will do things like having the local sheriff or deputy come arrest you for not sending the money they demand.

“It happened to us a couple of years ago,” Lawless said. “They said they were going to have Sheriff Jeff Lawless or deputy so and so come arrest them. They did enough research on this area and had the names of legitimate officers.”

Lawless said his agency, and agencies like the IRS or other government offices, don’t work that way.

“We are not going to call you up and tell you that there is a criminal complaint against you. The IRS is not going to call if they have a tax issue and demand payment over the phone,” he said.

The demand for money off a pre-paid card is one of the signs of the scam. Once the card information is given to the scam artist, it is nearly impossible to track the money and recover it.

“If they demand money from a pre-paid card, that’s when it is time to slam the phone down,” Lawless said.

Another good way to find out if the company is legitimate is to ask specific questions, like where they are located. If the story keeps changing, that is a red flag.

“The best thing to do is ask a lot of questions,” Lawless said. “Many times they will hang up on you.”
If you think a scam artist has targeted you, call your local police agency.