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Sheriff Warns Tax Season and Coronavirus Anxiety Produce a Prime Time for Scams

Apr 03, 2020 09:30AM ● By Editor
County Connections from Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen - April 3, 2020

 The opportunities for scam artists to con people always increase as tax deadlines approach, but with the general anxiety created by the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”)  pandemic, folks are made even more vulnerable to scams this season. Phone call scams can range from someone posing as the IRS, a loved one in legal trouble, the Social Security Administration, an insurance agent, or even a phony lottery company. Email “phishing” scams try to convince the reader to click on a link that causes a virus to download onto their computer, or leads to a screen requesting a username and password so that the scammer can access protected information or accounts. Although many scams  target the elderly, anyone can fall victim.

People often feel additional financial stress during the tax season, and this can make them more vulnerable to scammers. Phony IRS agents may call and demand money from victims, threatening arrest – or even deportation – if they don't comply. Please know that the IRS WILL NOT demand money over the phone, nor will they come to your door and arrest you.

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) reports that scammers are also taking advantage of fears surrounding the Coronavirus, using illegal robocalls to peddle fake Coronavirus treatments, vaccinations, or home test kits. Emails may attempt to sell the same phony products, or get the reader to click on a link appearing to be from the CDC for more information. For the best information on the pandemic, go straight to the government websites like CDC.gov or health.state.mn.us. Be aware that, with the new stimulus package recently passed to reduce the economic damage from the virus, you may see texts or emails about checks from the government. If the sender is claiming they can get you the money now, it is likely a scam.

Technological scams occur when a phony company calls and offers to increase the speed of your computer, check for viruses online, or perform other tasks if you give him/her remote access to your computer. Your best course of action is to hang up: unless you are talking with a trusted source, NEVER give someone remote access to your computer. This can lead to theft of personal information, including address, location, banking information and even your computer’s camera. 

There are several crucial steps you can take to prevent being scammed.

Do:

  • Put your phone number on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry by calling 1-888-382-1222 or by going online at https://www.donotcall.gov/. This won’t stop spam calls completely, but it will make them easier to spot because most legitimate telemarketers won’t call you if you’re on the registry.
  • Consider using a call-blocking mobile app or device to screen your calls and weed out spam and scams. You can also ask your phone service provider if it offers any blocking tools.
  • Hang up on illegal robocalls.
  • Slow down and ask questions of telemarketers. Legitimate businesses and charities will answer questions and give you time to consider a purchase or donation. Scam callers will pressure you to commit right away.
  • Independently research claimed-medical cures, travel deals, charities, or business and investment opportunities you hear about by phone.
  • Trust your instincts: if the call seems fraudulent or “too good to be true,” it probably is.

Don’t:

  • Answer calls from unknown numbers.
  • Return one-ring calls from unknown numbers. These may be scams to get you to call hotlines in African and Caribbean countries that have U.S.-style three-digit area codes, and you could incur hefty connection and per-minute fees.
  • Follow instructions on a prerecorded message, such as "press 1" to speak to a live operator (this will probably lead to a phishing expedition) or “press any key to get taken off a call list” (this will likely lead to more robocalls).
  • Give personal or financial data, such as your Social Security number or credit card account number, to callers you don't know. If they say they have the information and need you to confirm it, that's a trick.
  • Pay registration or shipping charges to get a  “free” product or prize. Such fees are ploys to get your payment information.
  • Make payments by gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Fraudsters favor these methods because they are hard to trace.

Additional information on emerging scams can be found at https://www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds.

 

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

 

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