Officials warn scammers step up their efforts in tax season

Local resident Chris Rice recieved a phone call from a scammer who was trying to obtain financial information in 2019.

Local law enforcement officials are urging the public to be vigilant in keeping an eye out for scammers during the peak of tax season.

Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault said his office is seeing more reports of people who fall victim to scammers claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service. Most recently, Chennault said, his named was used in a scam wherein the person claimed to be from the IRS.

“A woman called last week and said they named me and said I would be at her doorstep to arrest her,” said Chennault. “That’s the first time I’ve had that happen, and I assure people it doesn’t work that way. If we’re coming to arrest you, we’re not calling you first.”

Tahlequah Police Department Assistant Police Chief Steve Garner said neither his name nor another TPD official’s name has been used, but the scammer did say TPD would make an arrest if he wasn't paid.

“There are so many robocalls, or even calls from our area, and I think they have a device that randomly picks a number. There’s really not a way that we’d have the capabilities of tracking that down,” said Garner.

AT&T has an automatic phone fraud protection service wherein customers are notified if a call could possibly be fraud. “Spam risk” or AT&T Alert: Fraud Risk” is the caller ID when someone is receiving a potentially fraudulent call.

“If you have tax issues or you do owe the IRS money, they will not call you and they wouldn’t name me specifically,” said Chennault. “You will be notified by a letter in the mail from the IRS, OK? You will never receive a phone call from the IRS.”

According to scamwatch.com, nearly $58,121,800 was lost in 2019 due to fraud, where most were investment scams. The number indicates phishing and threats to a person's life, possible arrest or other issues were the top categories. Scammers contacted their victims by phone or email.

Scammers are more likely to target the older generation by stating their grandson or granddaughter is in jail, and they need money to get out. Local resident Pam Coonce told the Daily Press recently that she'd heard of such a situation, and was concerned about it.

“I’m not sure how they find elders, but all they have to do is call and say their granddaughter is in jail and you have to send this money. That one is a pretty common scenario,” said Chennault.

Scammers will tell their victims they must pay in gift cards and send them to Walmart or any store that offers cards. Money is loaded on the cards and scammers get those numbers. They can have the money swiped off the card within 30 minutes.

“The one I see a lot of the time is when they request the funds through a check or money order,” said Chennault. “It was always through Western Union or Green Dot, and I’m sure they throw PayPal and all of that in there now.”

Chennault and Garner both stressed that people should never give out their personal information over the phone or through email.

“If someone calls stating they’re from the IRS, they should already have all your information, so you wouldn’t need to give them it again,” said Garner.

Garner said people fall victim to scammers all the time, and a police report should be filed if personal information has been given out, money is stolen out of bank accounts, or if the victim is being threatened.

“If they do not give out any information, then the best thing to do is just to hang up the phone,” said Garner.

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