A series of phone, email and internet scams continue to hit residents in Southeast Alaska and beyond. People are particularly vulnerable during the holiday season.
When I arrived home Friday afternoon, I found this message on my answering machine.
Though breaking up and difficult to understand, I did pick up something about a “final notice” and that a “lawsuit” was being filed against me. I had to listen to it several times before I figured out the person mentioned the IRS. The message goes on to give a number you need to call immediately.
I had heard about this scam before, but this was the first time I’d ever been targeted. Sadly, too many people become victims of these scams, especially senior citizens. The IRS never contacts people by phone, only in writing.
Kim Simpson of Ketchikan Public Utilities Telecommunications says this scam has been going on for a while and it is just one of many.
“They will just call and say ‘We’re calling from your bank. We want to verify your account information. Can you please give me your social security number, your mother’s maiden name and your birthday.’ Luckily nobody seems to have responded to that but if they call enough people, somebody will. Another one is that they’ll pretend to be KPU calling to collect a payment. We do make courtesy calls, but we don’t threaten. These guys actually will threaten. The best way to verify is to ask to verify the address they are planning to disconnect and generally they can’t give you that information. They say things like, ‘ Well, you know, your home.’”
Simpson says scams tend to increase during the holidays. She says callers may try to get personal or financial information over the phone, but also may direct you to a website to gain access to your computer.
“They will say that they’re calling from KPU or from Microsoft and they noticed that your internet is not secure and they want you to go to a website and download some software onto your computer. Generally what that does is that you end up downloading Malware onto your computer or Spyware that will track what you’re doing.”
Ed Zastrow is president of the Ketchikan Chapter of AARP. He says senior citizens are especially vulnerable.
“The problem with seniors is, they’re too polite. If they were not polite and simply would hang up, they would solve the problem. When these scammers come on, if we just remember these are people that are going to do bad things to us, and we do not have to be polite to them.”
Zastrow says his organization works to educate senior citizens about this and other scams.
“Our local chapter of AARP has had special programs where we have invited people from the bank to talk to us about these scams and the credit unions. In addition to that, our state organization in Anchorage has put on programs and will continue to put on programs. I’m told they have another one scheduled within a month or so to address these scams.”
Zastrow says AARP has information on its website and libraries usually have copies of the AARP magazine that contains information on phone and internet frauds. He also suggests stopping by during your local AARP chapter meetings to find out more. The Ketchikan chapter usually meets the 4th Friday of each month at the Plaza Mall, except during holidays.
While seniors are often victims, others fall for these scams too, especially when the Internal Revenue Service or a financial institution is mentioned.
Experts say the best thing to do if you receive a questionable call is to hang up and if you receive an email or internet message, don’t click on any links. Delete the messages immediately. Never give out credit card information, and if you have concerns, contact your internet and phone provider or financial institution directly to verify account information.
In the interest of full disclosure, Kim Simpson is a KRBD board member.
Here are some helpful links…
AARP links – http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/
Internal Revenue Service links – https://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts
Information from KPU Telecommunications – http://www.kputel.com/scam
Information from GCI – http://www.gci.com/kb/protect-against-fraud