• 72°

Our opinion: Be aware of scammers

Numerous times every year we write stories on scams that are making the round.

Either these tips come to us from law enforcement, who push the information to us, or they come in from citizens who are reporting what they’ve heard or even that they were targets of a scam.

Often these scams will come in through email or over the phone, but they essentially are looking for the same thing — your money or your private information.

The scams change, but the story remains the same. The scammer will ask for money (or gift cards) to be sent some place, or they need your personal information for some sort of official government business.

Sometimes the scammer will try to leverage a person’s love of family by pretending to be a relative who is in some kind of trouble and they need bail money.

Recently, we received a call from a community member who said they were being given a grant they hadn’t applied for, but before they could get that grant they had to give these people their personal information. Fortunately, this person declined and avoided the hardships that were inevitably on the horizon should they have handed over their information.

These are just examples of scams we have heard about over time and these scams are often evolving, making it hard sometimes to determine what is a scam and what isn’t, especially in the case of a perceived family member being in trouble.

What makes it more difficult is how hard it is to track these people down. It’s remarkably easy for scammers to hide their identities, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to trace the scam to its source. Because of this, people have to remain vigilant in keeping their personal information and their money safe.

First, it’s important to remember that official government agencies like the IRS, FBI or local government agencies will never call you at your home and ask you for this information over the phone.

For example, the IRS lists on its homepage a number of things it will not do, including:

Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. You should also be advised of your rights as a taxpayer.

Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.

When perceived family is involved, it’s a little more difficult because when family is involved the first thought isn’t, “is this a scam?”

Like the IRS, the police will not call and demand immediate payment to get people out of jail.

It’s also important to remember that if you did not enter a contest, fill out an application, or do anything associated with receiving a prize, be it an item or a monetary prize, then you did not actually win anything. As law enforcement will tell you, if it sounds too good to be true, then it’s not true.

If you have questions or if you think you’ve been scammed, please call local law enforcement and report it. Visit the websites for the IRS, FBI or the Federal Trade Commission for more information on scams and arm yourself with the necessary information.

Scammers will not stop, so it’s important now more than ever to be vigilant against attempts.

For more information, visit:

• Internal Revenue Service: www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts

• Federal Bureau of Investigation: www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety.

• Federal Trade Commission: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0208-phone-scams