Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have issued separate warnings about telephone scams the past couple weeks involving the Internal Revenue Service, the California tax agency, the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Anaheim and Santa Ana police departments.
The Sheriff's Department says someone fraudulently identifying themselves as law enforcement calls people claiming to have a warrant for their arrest. In the case of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, the names of actual personnel have been used, as have "spoofer" devices which give real law enforcement agency names on caller IDs. The reasons given for the warrants vary; most are for failing to appear for jury duty or unpaid tickets. The person is instructed to obtain a pre-paid money card and call back with the card number. Once the number is obtained, the funds can be accessed anywhere in the world. Calls have been made to Tustin and Santa Ana residents, and a couple victims forked over about $500 to $800 to the thieves, according to Lt. Jeff Hallock, the department spokesman. "The public is advised that the Orange County Sheriff's Department DOES NOT solicit by phone and will never restrict the form of payment," Hallock says.
Anaheim residents have been getting calls from someone claiming to be their police chief, Raul Quezada, whose department is emphatically denying he's the caller. The phony chief directs folks to contact the "Bureau of Consumer Regulatory Affairs." One woman who received such a call cut the person off and went to the police station, according to Anaheim Police Lt. Eric Trapp, the department spokesman. Investigators suspect the caller was trying to fleece the woman out of money. Trapp warned residents that police officials nor the chief would ever call someone demanding money and to be wary of anyone seeking personal information such as a Social Security number.
SANTA ANA PD/IRS
The Santa Ana Police Department recently advised the public both about the scam that uses the names of Orange County Sheriff's Department employees as well as another where the caller claims to be with the IRS. The police department is investigating cases where victims have been stung for at least $10,000 since Jan. 29. Targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, the IRS impersonation scam has been making the rounds throughout the country, according to police. The caller claims to be an IRS employee–using a fake name and bogus IRS identification badge number–and provides much personal information about the person being called. The victim is told he or she owes money to the IRS that must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. People who refuse to cooperate are threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or drivers license. "In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting," says Santa Ana Police. " Or, victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information." If the phone isn't answered, the scammers often leave an "urgent" callback request.
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION
The California State Board of Equalization has received multiple reports from taxpayers who received phone calls from someone impersonating a local police officer who demanded immediate payment for a tax liability and threatened arrest. The callers spoof police department or BOE telephone numbers on caller ID, creating the appearance that a legitimate party is calling. The BOE does not operate that way, and taxpayers should never give any personal information or make a payment to anybody making such a call, the agency warns, noting outstanding tax bill and requests for overdue payments are only mailed. "Fortunately, those who attempt to deceive others will eventually be caught and prosecuted," vowed BOE Chairman Jerome E. Horton. Member Diane L. Harkey, who represents the Fourth Equalization District that covers Orange County, added, "If anyone receives a call or is unsure of a possible scam, my staff and I are here to provide immediate assistance. Once the money is gone it becomes harder to track down these criminals who often operate outside of the United States."
The sheriff's department offers these tips for fighting phone scammers:
* Do not call back or hang up if you are talking to them.
* Call the Orange County Sheriff's Department at 714.647.7000 or 949.770.6011 to determine if an OCSD employee is actually calling you and to file a report.
* Contact the court directly to inquire about bail or fine payment. The link http://www.occourts.org/locations contains court locations and contact information in Orange County.
* Visit http://ocsd.org/about/info/safe/scams for scam updates.
The IRS says it will never:
1) call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill;
2) demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe;
3) require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card;
4) ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or
5) threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
The BOE says if you have received such a call about state taxes, contact the BOE Customer Service Center at 1.800.400.7115 Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (except state holidays).
"With the April 15th due date for income tax returns approaching," the BOE notes, "tax-related phone scams are quite common."