The good news is that you don't owe the IRS thousands of dollars and they are not sending police to your home to arrest you, no matter what that angry person on the phone is telling you.
The good news is that your computer is not so infected with viruses that Microsoft can spot it in their home offices, no matter what that helpful person on the phone is telling you.
The good news is that your niece or nephew is not languishing in jail, waiting for you to wire the nice person on the phone bail money.
The bad news is that you’ll never see a penny of that dead Nigerian prince’s fortune that friendly young man is willing to share with you.
The bad news is that you’ll never see a penny of the lottery winnings that friendly young woman so desperately wants to split with you.
These are all popular scams that bilk good people out of anywhere from a few hundred dollars to their entire life savings. Reports suggest that over 17 million Americans lost over $8.6 billion to phone scammers last year, and those numbers appear to be escalating.
Here’s my very simple advice boiled down to just three words: don’t trust anyone.
Here’s a nightmare of a story that happened just last year to a nice elderly woman in Woodhaven. She was walking on the street when she was approached by a friendly young couple. They came from the same country as she did and they spoke the same language.
They had a problem, but it was a good one, they explained. They held a winning lottery ticket worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but because they were undocumented they were unable to cash it in.
They offered to cut the nice woman in on their winnings, she wanted the money for her church, if she would cash it in for them.
It seemed too good to be true, and it was. As a show of good faith, they convinced her to give them their “small” share up front, and they accompanied her to the bank on Jamaica Avenue where she withdrew $90,000.
They handed her the “winning” lottery ticket and drove her home to collect a utility bill, which they said she would need to collect her winnings.
When she came out of her house, the couple was long gone. So was her life savings. She lost everything in less than 30 minutes because she trusted strangers and bought this cockamamie story.
A more common scam involves thieves you never lay eyes on because they invade your home via the telephone.
You’ll get a phone call from someone purporting to be from the IRS, claiming that you owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. And the kicker is that the police have been notified and will be taking you into custody within the next few hours.
Luckily, they have an easy remedy. They’ll ask you to make payment by purchasing gift cards and giving them the number on it, which they will use to retrieve the cash value. Or they may ask you to make payments to the IRS via your computer on iTunes or PayPal.
The IRS does not operate this way. Don’t fall for it.
These scammers and fraudsters are professional liars and they have no shame. They are called con men, short for “confidence,” which is what they hope to gain in order to take advantage of you. They spend all day on the phone looking for kindhearted, unsuspecting, trusting people.
Don’t trust them. Do not be afraid to hang up the phone. Do not be afraid to walk away.
Do not engage them. Do not try to be cute or outsmart them. No clever joke is going to hurt their feelings. Just hang up or walk away. They will move on to the next name on the list, to the next stranger on the street.
How should you report it? If you are approached on the street, go to the nearest phone and call 911, giving a good description and the location of the fraudsters. That might save one of your friends or neighbors some grief.
It’s a bit trickier if the scam came in via phone or email. The IRS has a page for reporting these scams, but the truth is that catching phone scammers is like catching mosquitoes in the dark.
Don’t worry about catching them. Just stay focused on not being a victim. I’m not suggesting you be merely suspicious; I’m saying you need to be impenetrable. Ignore. Hang up. Walk away.
And please share this with your friends and family members, especially those who are elderly and live alone. We need to look out for one another.