Cambrian: Slice of Life

Scammers try everything from fake IRS threats to Girl Scout Cookies

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

I’ve written before about pushy door-to-door peddlers, hackers, robocaller phone pests and other lowlifes.

But those yahoos just won’t give up. So, neither will I.

There seems to be no end to the wretched scheming by scammers who harass us by phone, email, social media and at our own front doors.

They hound us with phony threats about debts we don’t owe, fraudulent offers, sales pitches for goods and services that are never delivered and creepy, fake calls for help.

Some recent local door-to-door scams involved aggressive magazine salesmen pitching a very peculiar concept and sellers hawking unsolicited “carpet cleaning on demand.”

Legit? Perhaps. But maybe those folks are casing the joint, checking out the house so they can come back later to burgle it. At the very least, the scammers want our money, for which we’ll likely get nothing in return.

Legitimate door-to-door salespeople must be so discouraged these days! I feel for the genuine painting contractor seeking work, school kids who really are selling gift wrap, or Girl Scouts with their cookies.

Yes, even Scouts are suspect now!

Earlier this year, Mark Price wrote in the Charlotte Observer about a “Door-to-Door Cookie Sales Scam,” which was serious enough to warrant an official police warning. Scummy scammers had used children to sell various edible goods — including cookies — which, of course, were never delivered.

Phone scams?

In one new twist, a woman says awkwardly, “Sorry! I couldn’t get my headset on. Can you hear me?”

Your instinct is to say “yes.”

DON’T!!

In those scams, the caller records you saying “yes,” then uses that audio to “prove” you agreed to buy a product or service that you certainly did not order or want, and which you won’t receive.

Remember the “Grandma scam” (a garbled voice says, “Grandma, I’m in jail in Bogota and I need money fast!”) … and the pay-or-be-arrested scams, purportedly from IRS or PG&E or the Sheriff’s Office?

Those scams are still quite active, unfortunately, along with many other disgustingly common swindles.

Robocallers frequently use a technique called “spoofing,” which mimics local area codes, phone numbers, even names of your friends.

There may be hope on that front. The Federal Communications Commission could consider on Thursday, March 23, a regulation allowing phone companies to block any invalid area codes, which robocallers often use.

One clue: Phone scammers usually demand money sent right now by preloaded debit card, “Green Dot MoneyPak” cards or wire transfer … any means of sending money fast that’s easy to cash out, difficult to cancel or retrieve and impossible to trace.

But we consumers can outwit scammers one-on-one, while having a bit of fun.

An aggressive caller was outmaneuvered recently by “Village Wizard” Rick Bruce of Cambria, who knew right away that the call was a scam.

The faux-IRS caller told Rick to pay immediately or be arrested.

Rick replied that he really didn’t have time to deal with the situation right then “because I have croissants in the oven.”

The incredulous scammer shouted, “But I’m sending police over to arrest you within two hours if you don’t pay up right now!”

The wily wizard replied brightly, “Oh, the police are coming over? Would they prefer chocolate or plain croissants?”

Eventually, Rick suggested that the scammer find a more honorable line of work.

Once, however, I took scam wariness a bit too far.

The caller ID showed two initials and an unfamiliar, out-of-the-area phone number. A distant-sounding voice said, “Mrs. Tanner, I’m from PG&E and we’re calling to tell you that … ”

I’d heard about the fake-PG&E phone con, so I replied, “This is a scam!” and hung up.

Moments later, “ring, ring,” and my caller ID displayed a different, equally unfamiliar name and phone number.

The caller hurriedly said, “This really is a call about PG&E!!! We’re with the tree service, and we’ll be at your house in a few minutes to trim the tree,” work we already knew had been commissioned by the utility company.

That poor man switched phones because his cellular provider doesn’t get good reception in Cambria. (Fortunately, his coworker’s personal phone was on a different service.)

To say I apologized profusely would be an understatement.

But, at least I didn’t wind up paying for 4,500 fake Girl Scout Cookies I never ordered, didn’t want and never got.

Reminders

Some reminders from sheriff’s Cmdr. Jim Taylor:

IRS won’t call about overdue tax payments (they send letters), doesn’t demand tax payments without providing an opportunity to appeal the charge and certainly won’t send law enforcers to arrest you if you don’t pay within the next 15 minutes.

PG&E won’t send the cops, either, and will send letters telling you that your payment is overdue. To be safe, call the utility, business or agency directly and ask for an update about your account.

Got a “Grandma, I’m in a Bogata jail”-type scam call? Taylor advises noting the incoming phone number, then contacting other family members or friends to confirm where and how that grandchild really is.

Taylor said, “If you get any phone scam calls, please call us” at 805-781-4550, the Sheriff’s Office nonemergency line to dispatchers, who maintain a log of such incidents. “If you tell us, and the dispatchers have logged a rash” of the same kinds of scams, “we can spread the word” to warn others.

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