Biden warns consumers to be aware of telephone tax, lottery/sweepstakes scams

Date Posted: Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
Categories:  Consumer Protection Department of Justice DOJ Press Releases

Wilmington – Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden today alerted consumers to be on the lookout for two unrelated telephone scams that have targeted large numbers of consumers in Delaware and beyond. The scammers appear to be randomly targeting victims, claiming that victims owe back taxes to the government, or owe processing fees to collect a sweepstakes prize.

“Scammers prey on unsuspecting victims to make a quick buck,” Biden said. “Unfortunately, increasing numbers of phone scams are initiated beyond our national borders, where con artists are difficult to track and it’s relatively easy for them to hide from law enforcement. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be aware of these criminal tactics, recognize the signs, and avoid becoming a victim.”

In the first scam, which has targeted consumers in many states across the country, consumers receive unsolicited phone calls from an individual who claims to represent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Treasury Department, a law enforcement agency, or even a law firm. The caller informs the victim that they owe money to the IRS or to a law enforcement agency and demand prompt payment through a pre-paid debit card or a wire transfer. If the intended victim refuses to immediately comply, the scammer threatens arrests, indictment, deportation, or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases consumers report that the caller becomes hostile and insulting. In several recent solicitations the caller has identified himself as Steve Martin. Several consumers have reported to Biden’s office that the following phone numbers have appeared on caller ID when calls were received: (909) 666-8077, (559) 358-4650, (202) 241-0181, (949) 873-7420. Biden warned consumers to beware that telephone scammers commonly employ a tactic known as “caller ID spoofing” that falsifies the telephone number and name that appears on the consumer’s caller ID in order to appear legitimate or hide their true identity and location.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit has received 30 reports of these phone scams in recent weeks. The New Castle County Police Department reported earlier this week that it had received 50 reports of the same IRS phone scam.

Biden reminded consumers that government agencies will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone and will never demand that a payment be made using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. If you receive a harassing call from an individual claiming to be a government official demanding payment, hang up and do not call back the number on your caller ID. Instead, contact the actual government agency directly to inquire whether you owe payment to them – for example, consumers may contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 – or contact the Delaware Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at 1-800-220-5424.

In a second scam, consumers report receiving unsolicited phone calls from an individual claiming they have won a significant prize in the form of money, a trip, or a vehicle. The caller reports the prize will be delivered to the consumer after the consumer pays a processing fee that can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and the scammer directs the victim to make payment by purchasing a pre-paid debit card or making a wire transfer. After the payment is made, however, delivery of the “prize” never occurs.

Biden warned Delawareans to be wary of unsolicited calls, letters, or e-mails claiming the recipient has won a lottery or sweepstakes, reminding consumers that if they didn’t buy a lottery ticket or enter a sweepstakes, they can’t win a prize. He recommended the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of lottery and sweepstakes scams:
• Never pay up-front fees to collect a prize.
• Never wire money to someone you do not know. Don’t ever wire funds from a check you’ve received to pay “taxes or fees” for a promised lottery or sweepstakes prize. Reject any kind of scheme that sends you a check and asks you to wire money back to the sender.
• Do not give out your social security number, credit card and bank account numbers to anyone.
• Beware of solicitors requesting money be sent via a wire service or overnight delivery.

If you receive unsolicited calls, letters, or e-mails claiming you have won a lottery or sweepstakes you did not enter, hang up the phone or ignore the message. If you believe you have been the victim of a lottery or sweepstakes scam, contact your local police or the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at 1-800-220-5424.

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