Hundreds of people reported to me in the last three years, of getting robo-calls telling them they face immediate arrest or legal action if they do not pay back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. This is without a doubt the most common complaint I receive, and it is a hoax. The Internal Revenue Service does not notify taxpayers of issues by phone or email.

But the IRS is not the only government agency scammers like to impersonate. On Feb. 1, the FBI released a public service announcement, informing us of several recent attempts by crooks to impersonate the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, which they refer to as IC3. The FBI organized the Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2000 as the point of contact with the pubic to receive reports of internet crime. Since 2012, those complaints average 280,000 each year. In 2016, those complaints reported over $1.4 billion in losses. And we need to keep in mind, the FBI thinks only 15 percent of fraud victims make any kind of report.

Regarding these impersonations, the FBI tells us they know of four versions of this scam, all using email. Crooks send the emails to folks they already defrauded. These crooks want to take a second swing at their previous victims. The emails claim to originate with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. To make them look more legitimate, they included hyperlinks to real news article which reported on real arrests and prosecutions of internet criminals.

These are descriptions of the four versions circulating:

n The email sent to the victim refers to a Nigerian national arrested in 2014, who worked with co-conspirators in Russia, Nigeria, Ghana, and London. The court ordered restitution, but decided this needed to be kept private and “away from public media.” If the victim wants restitution, the email directs them to contact “a European law firm” who previously returned millions in restitution to victims. The email lists contact information for this “law firm.”

n A second version set up a fake social media page, appearing like that of the IC3, and asked for reports of internet fraud, further asking the reporting victims for detailed personal information.

n A third version of the email went to victims, telling them the FBI learned of “the uneasy way which people like you are treated by various banks and courier companies … we have decided to put a stop to that.” The email goes on informing the victim the investigation found their name in a database of money sent to “fraudsters,” and directs victims to contact IC3 to arrange restitution.

n The last version claims to come from the FBI in Minneapolis and informs the recipient IC3 identified them as a “possible victim of federal cyber crime,” because the victim’s IP address “was used to commit multiple online crimes.” Again, a phone number is provided for the recipient to call “urgently.”

No one reported losing any money to these emails — yet. The goal more likely is to harvest personal information and download malicious software to the recipients’ computers by causing them to open links or attachments. If you want to read the FBI’s announcement and view the phony email templates, visit https://www.ic3.gov/media/2018/180201.aspxs.

These impersonations live in that vein of scams I call “double-tap.” These are scams which go after people who already lost money in some other scam. On the second go-round, scammers use various ruses and tricks to make the victims think someone is working to get restitution out to them for the first scam. Of course, this effort requires the victim to invest more money to pursue the restitution claim. This kind of fraud makes a bad situation worse.

COUNTERFEIT POSTAL MONEY ORDERS

I see quite a few counterfeit checks come across my desk. These usually are delivered as payment for something posted for auction on Craigslist, or a similar internet auction. The check, often labeled as a cashier’s check, will show the payment amount as several times more than the asking price for the auction item. The instruction from the check’s sender, the prospective buyer, tells the seller to cash the check and send the overage to a third party, maybe a “mover.”

In fact, last week, two different people came to see me within minutes of each other, each bearing a counterfeit check sent as payment for an auction.

But it is not just checks than can be counterfeited. This week a Camanche woman turned over a counterfeit postal money order she received in a Priority Mail envelope. The woman submitted some of her personal information to an online job search website. Within days, she received this parcel with the fake postal money order for $990, and instructions telling her to take the money order to a bank, cash it, and use the proceeds to act as a mystery shopper. Her mystery shopper assignment was to go to Walmart and send $800 in a “Walmart 2 Walmart” money transfer to someone in Texas. On the surface, this looked like an easy $190 payout for the shopper. But when the money order came back to the bank as phony, our shopper would have found herself paying back the bank $990.

These phony checks (and money orders) are showing up a lot. Do not assume they are legitimate. In fact, assume they are fake until someone can prove otherwise to you.

The U.S. Postal Service offers a toll-free number for anyone wanting to verify a postal money order. You can call (866) 459-7822. You’ll hear instructions on how to verify the money order you are questioning, a review of security features on real money orders, and how to tell the difference between real and fake.

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 242-9211, extension 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.

Randy Meier is the Director of the Seniors vs. Crime unit at the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department.

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