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Officials: combat scams with caution, common sense

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 5, 2019

Some recent phone scam reports in the area highlight current scams that residents should be aware of, according to Farmington Hills police crime prevention technicians Monica Kollar and Heather Bowman.

Kollar said the most common scams the Farmington Hills Police Department’s crime prevention unit has noticed are IRS tax scams, DTE Energy scams and U.S. Social Security Administration scams.

“In all three of the above calls, people are pressured into providing personal data and/or buying gift cards to pay off a debt,” Kollar said in an email.

Kollar and Bowman were scheduled to host tax scam talks this month, and more are scheduled for March, with dates yet to be determined.

Nearby, a West Bloomfield woman was contacted via phone by someone claiming to be from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The caller said the DEA had confiscated her illegal drugs and that the resident would be arrested if she didn’t post a federal bond. 

“A short time later, another subject called the resident and stated he was from the FBI and that she was going to be arrested if the federal bond was not paid,” West Bloomfield Deputy Police Chief Curt Lawson said. “The resident, fearing of being arrested, sent $16,000 via a wire transfer. The investigation is ongoing.”

A separate incident involved a resident who received a call from someone stating that the resident had won $1 million.  

“In order to obtain the $1 million, the resident needed to send a check for $8,000. The money was not successfully delivered and was returned to the owner,” Lawson said. 

He said another resident “was contacted by a person via the phone stating that they were from a computer company and they were going to help him with errors on his computer. The subject knew it was going to be a scam, so he terminated the call.”

Lawson said residents should always be “leery” of individuals calling with news that just “seems too good to be true.”

“Never provide personal information over the phone or via email except to individuals that you trust and who you have verified their identity. Federal and/or local law enforcement are not going to demand money wire transfers for bond for a person arrested,” he said.

Keego Harbor Police Chief John Fitzgerald  said “there is an issue everywhere,” and the scams go beyond phone calls to emails.

“It is spread out,” he said of phishing scams. “You have to be careful who you are opening up your emails to,” he said, and he warned people to beware of email attachments. 

Residents should be careful about the information they give out on a phone call, especially when the caller starts asking personal questions.

“Most of the time, companies don’t call you and ask you for Social Security numbers and passwords,” Fitzgerald said. “Use extreme caution” with unexpected calls and emails, he said.

Bowman said people need to be careful because there are “so many different types of scams.”

“We’re getting close to tax time, so the (IRS tax scam) tends to ramp up this time of year,” she added.

Bowman said that this particular phone call scam involves a robocall that leaves messages “stating that you have back taxes owed to the government and they leave a phone number for you to call.”

Bowman said that a variation of the scam involves a live person phone call, a “direct phone call.”

“We’ve heard it both ways,” she said. “I just got off the phone with a citizen about 20 minutes ago who just received a direct (tax scam) phone call,” she said Jan. 31.

She said the scammer has the victim’s name and threatens the victim with arrest if the victim doesn’t try to pay the supposed back taxes.

“Essentially, what we tell our citizens is that the IRS will never make phone calls to collect an IRS debt,” she said. “They only send out letters; they’ll send a series of letters, and if the person does not respond, then they will go ahead and garnish their wages. The IRS never, ever sends text messages or calls you at your house.”

Kollar said that phone scams typically fit under the umbrella of a phishing scam.

“Essentially, it’s just a bunch of people that find phone numbers — which you can find phone numbers all over the place these days, and usually done over the internet,” she said. Some scammers can make it look like a call is coming from a government agency or from a legitimate business. “But in reality, they are spoofing the phone to make it appear like it is from a legitimate company, when in reality it is probably someone from overseas able to spoof that number … to scam you out of information or money.”

Bowman said that she once received notification that one of her accounts had unusual charges, and the scammer left a specific number requesting her to call it back. She called the account directly, instead calling from the number that was left, “to find out that I did not have any charges,” she said. “They were looking for personal, bank account, credit card information.”

Bowman said that people looking to confirm if they owe money to the IRS need to contact the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040.

“That’s a good place to start,” she said.