Scammers remained relentless in 2015
KINGMAN - Roughly once a week, the Kingman Daily Miner takes a call from a reader who thinks they've been targeted by a scam artist, either online, on the phone, through the mail, and rarely, by way of a knock at the front door.
Most of the time their hunch is correct, but the scammers have grown a bit more sophisticated over the years and people are getting stung. While there are a number of different scams in play these days, those involving taxes - what's to fear more than the IRS? - are far and away the most common.
The Better Business Bureau launched the BBB Scam Tracker earlier this year and the bureau knew tax scams would be high on the list, but it had no idea 24 percent of all scams people reported to the bureau would involve imposters pretending to be with the IRS or the Canadian Revenue Agency.
Here's the Top 10 Scams list of 2015 and the number of complaints filed with the bureau:
10: Lottery, 241
9: Fake check or money order, 242
8: Work from home, 261
7: Credit cards, 308
6: Advanced fee loan, 388
5: Government grant, 574
4: Tech support, 608
3: Sweepstakes, prizes and gifts, 811
2: Debt collection, 835
1: IRS or CRA, 2,413
All of these, and others, have occurred in Kingman and elsewhere in Mohave County over the past year, and some people lost multiple thousands of dollars. And while the numbers are low, one can safely assume tens of thousands of other Americans were targeted. Not everybody calls the Better Business Bureau.
Fear is a great motivator and scammers instill it in their targets in order to manipulate their emotions, and get them to act more rashly than they would otherwise.
"Three of the top four scams reported are those that scare people with threats of arrest, lawsuits or other frightening actions," said Mary E. Power, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in an email.
"Scammers are pretending to be government agents, lawyers, debt collectors, and police officers," said Power. "They engage directly with you, so your best bet to avoid being scammed is to stop engaging. Hang up the phone, delete the email, or close the door."
Here's a primer on how they work:
Tax scams almost always occur over the telephone. The caller tells the target he or she owes back taxes and face arrest or other legal consequences if they do not pay immediately, usually by wire or prepaid debit card. The caller ID is spoofed to make it appear to be a government agency.
For the record, a government agency will never attempt to collect a payment through wire or prepaid debit card. Not ever.
Debt collection scam: This is also typically a phone scam. The caller claims the target has an unpaid debt (callers pretending to represent UniSource Electric have targeted Mohave County residents) and threatens them with check garnishments, lawsuits and jail time if they don't pay right away.
Sweepstakes, prizes, gifts scam: This one can come by phone, mail or email and you are told you have won a prize in a sweepstakes, such as Publisher's Clearinghouse, but must pay a fee to cover expenses before the check is provided. Never pay money to claim a prize.
Tech support: This one is obviously an online scam, but it starts with a phone call or email. Someone claiming to be a technician claims to have detected a virus or other security threat on the target's computer and, for a fee, offer to log in remotely and fix the problem. They are hackers looking to get your personal information.
Government grants: This is another one that can come by phone, mail or online. Targets are informed they have been awarded a grant - that they never applied for - but first must pay a processing fee, again by wire or prepaid debit card.
Advance fee loan: This one is exclusively online and is initiated by the target who is seeking information on loans.
A too good to be true ad pops up and promises are made. An application is completed and soon afterwards an email comes advising the loan has been approved. All you need to do is pay the fee, security deposit or insurance, and then wait and wait ... and wait for the loan to be delivered. It will never come.
Credit card: This one gets a lot of people. Someone calls and says they're from the target's bank or credit card company and that the targets qualify for a low-interest loan, or that they need to verify a recent transaction. The target provides the caller with their credit card number and security code to "verify" their identity and, voila, they have everything they need. There are other ways for a person to verify they are who they say they are, and none of them require sensitive information.
Work from home: This is another online scam that targets jobseekers. Make a ton of money stuffing envelopes or shipping packages. Complete the application and the scammer has enough of the target's personal information to steal his or her identity.
Fake check, money order: This one targets people who sell items online. The caller sends a check or money order that is more than the amount owed. They ask the target to deposit the check and wire the difference back to them. The check bounces like a basketball.
Lottery: Everybody with an address has probably seen this one. You receive a call, letter or email saying you won a ton of money in a foreign lottery, but have to pay taxes or fees upfront. Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.
The Better Business Bureau says there is a science to scams because many scammers use the same techniques as legitimate sales professionals. They establish a personal connection and build rapport. They build source credibility through fake websites, social media posts and hacked emails that come from a friend's account. The so-called email "phishing" scams use real companies, such as your bank or insurance company. They also play on emotions. They rely on emotion to get victims to make a quick decision, according to the bureau, citing emergencies (your grandson is in jail in Mexico and you need to send me $9,000 for bail) or a limited time offer (I can only hold this deal for another 30 minutes or you'll lose out on a $1,746,938.23 sweepstakes award).