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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Scams popping up around the holidays

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With the influx of personal data traffic from increased internet cloud services and online shopping, more scammers are using that information to target unwary consumers. In the state of North Carolina, the N.C. Attorney General’s office warned residents of scammers taking advantage of charitable good will around the holidays as well as callers’ recent tactics claiming to be the Internal Revenue Service or local utility companies.

“As people are getting toward the end of the year and about to file taxes the scams are ramping back up,” said Jennifer Canada, assistant public information officer to NCAG Roy Cooper. “Around the holidays there are all kinds of charity scams. Scammers know people want to be generous at this time of year so there are telemarketing calls and fake websites set up.”

Locally, Certified Public Accountant Michael Traflet has heard from more and more of his clients about callers claiming to be the IRS and even calling from what appears to be an IRS phone number or Washington, D.C.’s 202 area code.

“They can spoof the phone number to be an area code 202 number or they can even spoof it to be the real IRS phone number and that is not hard to do at all,” Traflet said. “Between their wrong terminology and their accents, that is probably what gives them away the most. If they had just a little better lingo they would probably have a lot higher success rates. I have had highly educated people who I would have thought they never would have fallen for it, but they call me very concerned.”

In these calls the scammers often claim the individuals owe the IRS money in the amount of around $3,000 and threaten imprisonment, suspended driver’s licenses or deportation if payment is not completed over the phone.

However, Traflet said the IRS would never surprise individuals with a phone call.

“The IRS will always send you a letter saying you owe money; they will never call you and say you have to make a payment over the phone,” he said. “They are going to send you lots of letters and this is not going to be a surprise when you owe the IRS because they have probably been pestering you for months.”

In another instance Traflet himself was called by a scammer claiming to work for Microsoft and offering to fix error messages on his computer through remote access.

“They get you to allow them remote access to your computer and once they have remote access they put a program on there that locks the computer down and to get access to it you have to pay them a couple hundred dollars to unlock it,” he said. “I would never give out banking information to anyone over the phone you don’t know and I would never allow remote access like that.”

Canada said another scam circulating across the state is a caller claiming to work for the individual’s utility provider and threatening to shut off service if payment is not collected during the phone call.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority had a similar issue arise in November when an elderly customer claimed someone called threatening to turn off water and sewer services.

However that was the only instance, said CFPUA chief communications officer Mike McGill.

“We have not heard of another instance,” McGill said. “Because of the particular nature of the one instance that was reported ,we thought we should get something out right away. The person said they were going to come out to the person’s home and was browbeating them and that was particularly troubling to us.”

Canada said anyone who suspects they received a scam phone call or email can contact her office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

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