DDN Investigates: Scams targeting you

Scam alert: Area victims say when in doubt, hang up

When in doubt, saying “No” to an unexpected caller with dubious information is a good strategy

For South Vienna resident Cheryl Misch, 63, it was a great strategy.

Misch sensed immediately that something was amiss when she was contacted last year by a caller claiming to work for the Internal Revenue Service.

The caller told her that she and her husband owed more than $500 in unpaid back taxes, and they needed to pay soon — right away, in fact.

Otherwise, the caller warned, she and her husband would be arrested.

“He said we’ll have someone in front of your house in about 15 minutes if you don’t pay this,” the Clark County resident recalled. “He said, ‘We’re just trying to collect this debt so you don’t go to jail.’”

Misch followed her instincts.

“I said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go to prison.’”

Russell Maas, of Washington Twp., is a former Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy who has received FBI training. So he was prepared when a scammer called offering to change his Social Security number.

The caller’s story: Police found a blood-stained car in Texas holding $200,000 in cash. Somehow, the car was traced back to Maas, and U.S. marshals were readying to seize his bank accounts.

“I have 25 years with the sheriff’s office,” recalled Maas, 76. “I knew where this was going.”

The caller wanted to “verify” Maas’ Social Security number and transfer his money to a protective “e-commerce account.”

“I said, all right, this is ridiculous,” Maas said. “There are a lot of old people that are going to be taken advantage of. The best I can do is retaliate and tie you guys up for a while.”

As ridiculous as the ruse was, the ploy must work occasionally, Maas believes. The results can be devastating.

“If you take a man or woman in their late 70s, and you hear that their bank accounts are going to be seized, they don’t have a thing to live on,” he said. “They’ve got an unlimited way to spin stories.”

Consumer advocates advise people to resist pressure, don’t be lured to make financial wire transfers — credit cards are safer — ask questions and check on an organization’s claims with the Better Business Bureau.

And don’t feel obligated to accept unexpected phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize.

“If you don’t know the number, let it go to voice-mail,” advised Brandy Bauer, associate director in the Center for Benefits Access, National Council on Aging.

For more information: Federal Trade Commission tips.

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