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Phone Scammers Working Overtime In The Numbers

Police blotter, residential burglaries, crime in Moraga, Orinda, Walnut Creek California

Despite some high profile arrests in the lucrative phone scam industry it appears others are ready to take the places of the arrested and continue on with endless variations of the IRS scam, Grandma con, Lagos Shuffle and Jamaican Switch.

Joanne Robbins of Walnut Creek got a call last week – and fortunately for her it didn’t take her long to figure out the heavily accented caller on the end of the line was…

“… pulling my leg,” Joanne said. “It was a girl’s voice and I could barely understand her through her accent. She kept saying my husband and I had filed a fraudulent tax return and that we owed the IRS $1,900. Well, my husband is dead and I haven’t received a thing from the IRS regarding a fraud or underpayment so I started demanding she tell me her name and where she was located.”

That didn’t go over well, as people who push back when scammers call usually find out, the initial caller handing Joanne over to a “supervisor” who would “advise you of the penalties you face…”

The “supervisor” also had a heavy accent, Joanne said, and he was extremely hard to hear except when he pressed her for the $1,900 he said she needed to pay or face “serious penalties including big fines and jail.”

Joanne smelled a rat, or in this case two of them, and gave the con artists a piece of her mind and a warning that she was from Texas and didn’t like scalliwags before hanging up with alacrity.

“They were so aggressive, so threatening,” she said. “I could see where an older person, maybe unprepared or hard of hearing, might fall for it. All through it I thought I could hear other voices in the background, like there were a lot of people in the room doing the same thing.”

That’s the way it works, law enforcement officials have said, with smooth-talking (or perhaps not-so-smooth talking) cons working the phones from an offshore “boiler room and calling purchased lists of people, usually seniors, with promises of lottery winnings or threats of IRS default, or the continued incarceration of a grandchild in a foreign jail if they don’t pay up – usually by wire and to untraceable accounts in other countries.

For every 50 people who say “I’m too smart to fall for that” there is one, police say, who pays – and pays. Several local residents have lost thousands of dollars before realizing that the IRS doesn’t call and demand money or that their beloved nephew Jimmy is not in jail in the Dominican Republic.

The best response, local police say, is just to hang up on the scammer and hope that the next 100 people he or she calls do the same and that they’ll tire of the game. But enough innocent people pay, and pay enough, to keep the cons calling, according to police. Don’t be one of them.

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