Persistent phone scam keeps claiming local victims

Rain Smith • Feb 12, 2018 at 3:25 PM

KINGSPORT — You answer the phone and the caller claims to be the police, the Internal Revenue Service or your bank. You are told that you have outstanding fines or fees that must be paid immediately — or you’ll be arrested or sued.

To make things right, the caller says, run to your nearest retailer, purchase a gift card, then provide the card’s PIN.

“Pardon me?”

If you think the scenario doesn’t ring true as proper protocol, you’re right — it’s a scam. But according to the Kingsport Police Department, many people continue to fall prey to such tactics, losing anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

“We can say with 100 percent certainty that no legitimate law enforcement official, nor any representative of the Internal Revenue Service, would ever call somebody on the telephone, threaten legal action, and then demand payment only in the form of a prepaid money card,” says Tom Patton, KPD public information officer.

Scare tactics to create a heightened sense of urgency are common among such scammers, who threaten all manner of legal action if their demands aren’t met. And they don’t want payment by traditional means such as cash, check or credit card. They tell their victims to purchase a Green Dot or MoneyPak money card or Visa/Mastercard gift cards.

“The caller instructs the victim to provide them with the account number and PIN number of that card, at which point the funds are immediately accessed and claimed remotely,” said Patton. “Once the money is gone, it is gone for good, and there is no getting it back.”

Scammers use masking technology to make their phone numbers appear to originate in the United States on caller ID or even display local area codes. However, the majority of such calls come from overseas, making it impossible for local authorities to place charges or recoup any losses.

Patton encourages people discuss these scams with family members and friends, especially those who may not be technologically savvy.

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