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GRAY — Betty Isenberg recently got a call from someone claiming to be with the federal government saying someone had used her personal information to purchase two vehicles in Texas.

To settle the matter and to keep from going to jail, Isenberg was told she needed to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards and then give those card numbers to the person on the other end of the line.

Unfortunately for Isenberg, the call was a scam, and she didn’t figure it out until it was too late.

It all started about four or five weeks ago. Isenberg, 83, said she got a call from someone saying they were from the federal government.

“They asked if I had lost my ID at any time and I said yes. He said two cars had been bought in Texas and put in my name and that’s why I’m calling,” Isenberg said. “He then said you’re going to have to go to jail if you don’t do what I tell you to do.”

The man on the other end of the line told Isenberg she had to go buy gift cards at various locations around town. He called her multiple times that day, telling her each time where to go, what gift card to buy and in what amount.

First, Isenberg went to a CVS and purchased $500 in iTunes cards. She then went to Dollar General and purchased a $250 gift card from Home Depot and finally another trip to another Dollar General. She said she purchased nearly $2,000 in gift cards.

“He told me first to get money out of my savings account to do this. After I did all this, he then told me to go home and wait to hear from him,” she said. “He said ‘I can assure you this is not a scam. I can give you names of two people in Colonial Heights that have been scammed.’ ”

Isenberg said she didn’t realize it was a scam until it was too late. She said she reached out to the Times News to tell her story in the hopes others don’t fall for a similar ruse.

Tom Patton, public information officer for the Kingsport Police Depart- ment, said while these scammers can be very convincing, citizens need to be alert to their existence.

“Anyone who receives this type of call should hang up and report the matter to law enforcement,” Patton said. “If there is ever any question regarding the legitimacy of this type of call, people should always consult an actual law enforcement officer and/or a trusted financial adviser prior to turning over any funds or personal information.”

The scammer will almost never accept traditional forms of payment such as cash, check, or credit card but rather demand you purchase pre-paid gift cards, from a local store, Patton said. The scammer will then require you to disclose the account numbers of the cards over the phone, so that the funds can be accessed remotely.

TIPS TO AVOID PHONE SCAMS

1) If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

2) Trust your instincts. If it just doesn’t sound right, investigate thoroughly before committing or just hang up.

3) Never pay anything, especially in advance, for a prize you have allegedly won.

4) Be aware that it is highly unlikely (if not impossible) for you to win a contest or a sweepstakes that you never actually entered.

5) Never give out account numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, pin numbers or other personal information over the phone, unless you originated the call and you are certain with whom you are speaking and they are legitimate.

6) Don’t be pressured by someone saying you must act immediately or the offer will expire.

7) Never send cash by courier or mail.

8) If in doubt, contact a trusted financial institution or your local law enforcement agency.

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