Recently, one of our clients received a telephone call from a phone number that appeared to be our office number, but we did not call her. The person she spoke to claimed to be “Jeffery Peters,” a spoof on our name. The man told her she owed money after her bankruptcy filing and that a judgment would be entered against her if she did not immediately transfer the amount owed via Western Union.
None of this was true. The man provided a telephone number and advised her to make the Western Union payment to “Harry Deluca,” likely a pseudonym.
Fortunately, she contacted us directly, and we were able to confirm that this was an attempted scam.
We were then able to deduce the following: The scammers probably pulled a set of bankruptcy filings, which are public record, from the court. From that list, they probably chose people with uncommon or less common names and noted the law firm or attorney of record. Most likely, they were able to obtain our client’s phone number and our office phone number from a simple Internet search. Then, they used a caller ID-spoofing app to make the call appear as if it were coming from our office number. Once they were able to reach our client, they quoted her bankruptcy case number from the court’s bankruptcy filing list to make it seem legitimate.
This is just one possible version of an exceedingly common phone-scamming formula. While there are many variations of phone scams, they all work to try to illegally solicit money or personal information (to be used for identity theft) from an individual.
Other common phone scams
•Claiming to be a debt collector demanding payment for a delinquent loan. (This is a popular scam targeting college students.)
•Claiming to be a city or county representative seeking payment for a parking ticket or other municipal fine.
•Claiming to be a Medicare representative to scam elderly people into giving out personal information, such as a Social Security number, to steal their identity.
•Claiming to be a company awarding a prize or offering an exclusive low-cost product.
How can I avoid being scammed?
1. Do not be swayed by the caller having personal information such as your full name, phone number, address or employment information. Information you assume is private actually may be public or could have been accessed because of data leaks or hacks.
2. If you receive a call from a number that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a government office, a law firm or a reputable organization, be sure to call the source back using a phone number you can verify. Caller ID-spoofing apps often are used by scammers.
3. Be suspicious if the caller insists that you make a payment using a money transfer service such as Western Union or Moneygram or with a prepaid debit card.
4. Never give your Social Security number, credit card number or checking account information over the phone unless you’ve called the organization directly and are certain you’re dealing with the right people. The IRS will never demand immediate payment for owed taxes and will never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
5. Both the IRS and debt-collection agencies send notices by mail before trying to contact you by phone. If your address is current and you have not received a notice in the mail, do not make any payments over the phone or give the caller any information.
6. Do not respond to scare tactics. Many scammers try to threaten people with lawsuits or jail time and use forceful language to intimidate their targets.
7. If you owe money and think the call might be legitimate, find out for sure by contacting a debt relief law firm. An initial consultation typically is free, and the lawyers will be able to advise you about the next best steps.
Beware of IRS scams during tax season
While just about anyone can be targeted for any number of phone scams, among the most pervasive and damaging are IRS scams. These could be especially rampant now that tax season is upon us. Typically, scammers call a taxpayer claiming to be an IRS official, demanding payment for an unpaid tax bill or asking for personal information for a phony reason.
IRS scams are so common, the U.S. Treasury General for Tax Administration reports that scam victims paid scammers more than $23 million between October 2013 and October 2015.
What should I do if I think I’ve been contacted by a scammer?
Start by contacting the state Attorney General’s Office and filing a complaint. You can do this online (visit ag.nv.gov) or by phone at 702-486-3420. You also should report any scam attempts (including IRS scams) to the Federal Trade Commission, online (ftc.gov) or by phone at 888-225-5322. For IRS scams specifically, contact the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, online (treasury.gov/tigta) or by phone at 800-366-4484.
Note: If you paid money to a scammer, there rarely is legal recourse available to you. Often, these scams are conducted from other countries, and payments made through money transfer services such as Western Union or by prepaid debit card usually are untraceable.
Please note: The information in this column is intended for general purposes only and is not to be considered legal or professional advice of any kind. You should seek advice that is specific to your problem before taking or refraining from any action and should not rely on the information in this column.