Randy Zavala of Las Cruces got a phone call from a number he didn’t recognize one day. The voice he heard when he picked up the phone told him it was the Social Security office and they were contacting him because he was being investigated and there was a warrant out for him.
Zavala said he heard keyboards clacking in the background and voices. He asked a couple of questions of the caller and then told them, “I think you are a fraud.”
Since Zavala had recently applied for Social Security, he initially thought the call might be legitimate. But he thought about it more and called the Social Security department to see what they had to say. He was told that the Department of Justice never operates that way. If there is an investigation, people get letters, not phone calls.
This kind of scam is not uncommon. with the onset of technology, scammers can use threats and bluffs to convince the savviest citizen to question their own competencies. Even as organizations and individuals reach out to educate and uncover con artists, they come up with new formats and scripts.
YouTuber Kitboga, aka Granny Edna, makes it his business to uncover phone scammers and waste their time.
Man on phone: “Mam, you have to make a partial payment today, so I can cancel your warrant and then make a payment arrangement for the rest … you have to make this payment by purchasing a financial card … how much do you currently have in your bank account?”
Granny Edna: “Hun, I hardly have anything, most of it went to medical expenses and my daughter got into a terrible accident.”
Man on phone: “I think you are not taking this matter into a serious case.”
Granny Edna: “Let me pay you, I’m sure I could come up with at least $100 today.”
Man on phone: “$100 dollars does not work Ma’am, I am executing your warrant, I’m sorry.”
After two hours and 15 minutes on the phone with this IRS scammer:
“There were a couple of points during that call when I got really, really angry,” Kitboga tells his audience. “I just wanted to break character and I just wanted to yell. There was a point, an hour and a half ago where I was fake crying. But of course, the guy doesn’t know, and he is yelling at me not to cry. He is just screaming at me and saying do I want to go to jail, telling me my life is going to be over if don’t get this card.
“How do you do that? I am almost tearing up because I am thinking about my grandparents and your grandparents and it’s cruel and it’s sick. We just spent two hours with that guy and that was two hours he wasn’t talking to someone else … I think that is still a win. The IRS does not call you and threaten you with jail time and tell you that you only have 24 hours to make a purchase.”
According to the New Mexico Attorney General’s website, tax and Social Security scams are common.
“They even rig the caller ID to make your call look official,” the site says. “They play on your fears, threatening to take your drivers license, or sue, or arrest of deport you and they want you to pay fast.”
According to ftc.gov/imposters, the IRS’s first contact will always be a letter in the mail not a phone call, email or text. They won’t insist you pay with a prepaid debit card, wire transfer or cashier’s check.
Area businesses that offer prepaid gift cards are aware of the problem as scammers often will send the subject to buy a prepaid card in order to give them money on line.
A local Walgreens manager said he has seen people come in for those cards although the instances are becoming less common.
“We have intercepted some that come in and want large amounts or multiples, because cards have limits,” he said. “We are trained to be aware of that, also we do Western Union. We ask questions like ‘is this money for somebody you know?’”
The manager said if the customer is dead set on sending the money, but if they suspect there is fraudulent activity in the store, it will be turned over to the store’s security officer.
Visit consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0076-phone-scams for more information about phone scammers and how they operate.
Elva K. Österreich may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would like to hear from the community about frauds and scams you have encountered so we can pass the information along to our readers.