Authorities call attention to increase in phone, computer scams in Mahoning County
By Jordyn Grzelewski
On Aug. 22, a Boardman man received a call from someone who identified himself as an Internal Revenue Service agent.
The caller told the man he had made an error on his 2012 taxes, owed the IRS $4,500 and an arrest warrant would be issued if he did not pay.
The caller then instructed him to withdraw the money from a bank and buy nine pre-paid credit cards for $500 each, which the man did. The next instruction was to scratch off serial numbers of the cards and to read them to the caller. Again, the man complied.
After giving the caller the numbers, as well as his Social Security number, the man realized he had been the victim of a scam and filed a police report.
This scam is one of about eight similar fraud cases for which police reports were filed in Boardman in the last month, and one of many attempted in Mahoning County this summer.
Such scam attempts have been an issue for local law-enforcement officials for years, but the number increased this summer, said Maj. William Cappabianca with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s really kind of amazing how [these scams have] picked up these last few years,” said Melissa Ames of the Better Business Bureau of the Mahoning Valley.
Ames said there are several common scams to watch for.
One is a technology-support scam in which someone claims to be working for a technology company and tells the victim there is something wrong with his or her computer. The caller will usually then ask for credit-card information to pay for the service, Ames said.
A report filed with Boardman police Sept. 2 describes a scam in which the victim received a call from someone who said there were corrupted files on his computer, and asked the victim for a $200 fee after the victim gave the caller remote access to the computer to fix the problem.
Because the victim did not give out his credit-card information, the person with remote access did something to damage the computer beyond repair.
Other common scams include someone claiming to be from the IRS or another government agency, medical-alert scams in which the caller claims to be from Medicare and the “grandma scam” in which the caller claims to be a grandchild and asks the victim to wire money, Ames said.
The caller often will ask for money orders or pre-paid cards, said Boardman Detective Ben Switka.
“It’s important for people to know that the IRS will never call out of the blue and demand immediate payment, particularly immediate payment through something that can’t be traced such as a pre-paid card,” said Jennifer Jenkins, an IRS spokeswoman.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has identified 1,100 victims nationwide who have lost an estimated $5 million from scams between October 2013 and August.
Cappabianca said scammers also might pretend to be from law enforcement. “Our agency was receiving a lot of [these] calls because the criminals were stating they were either the sheriff themselves, or saying they were a lieutenant and making up a last name,” Cappabianca said. The caller would then ask the caller to wire money to an account to have a warrant dismissed.
Ames said one way scammers trick victims is by “spoofing” the telephone number they use, meaning they change what number appears on the caller ID.
“It’s perfectly legal. Companies use it all the time,” Ames said. “But unfortunately scammers have picked up on it, and it’s very common.” She recommends that people screen their calls using an answering machine.
Law-enforcement officials offered other tips for avoiding scams.
“I think one of the biggest recommendations is to ask for a call-back number,” said Vicki Anderson, an FBI spokeswoman. “If it’s legit, there won’t be a hesitation to give contact info.”
“We request that individuals be aware when you get these strange phone calls,” Cappabianca said. “Ask questions. Contact your local law-enforcement agency. Definitely don’t send money.”