Some years ago, I came home and saw my wife clearly agitated as she was speaking on the phone with someone.
She handed me the phone and said to me that it was someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service.
I took the phone and the man on the line told me that he was an IRS agent and we owed back taxes. He further said that unless we paid the back taxes immediately via a credit card, he was sending Philadelphia police officers to our home to confiscate our property and all of our belongings.
Although the man on the phone knew our names and home address, he apparently did not know that prior to becoming a full-time writer, I was a federal employee. For many years, I performed security work for the Defense Department as a civilian employee and earlier as a young sailor in the U.S. Navy. And over the years, I also served on a good number of inter-agency groups with the IRS, the FBI, and other federal law enforcement agencies.
I told the man that I knew this was a scam. The IRS would not do a cold call and threaten a person with property confiscation and demand that one use a credit card to pay back taxes. I also told the scammer that the IRS has its own special agents, so they would certainly not call the Philadelphia Police to do its bidding. I told the crook that I was calling the FBI, and I did so as soon as I hung up.
I wondered how many poor victims fell for this phone scam.
I thought of this incident when I saw that the FBI in Philadelphia has warned that South Jersey residents were being targeted in the latest iteration of the “FBI” phone scam.
“The FBI Philadelphia Field Office is again warning the public to be on alert for a phone scam that spoofs, or fakes, the FBI’s name and real telephone number on the recipient’s caller ID,” stated the FBI advisory. “Recently, a scammer has targeted South Jersey residents, claiming to be with the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency in Cherry Hill.”
According to the FBI, the intended victim is called and told that there was a federal warrant out for their arrest. The caller, claiming to be an FBI special agent, tells the victim that the warrant will be dropped if the victim provides immediate payment. The FBI said that South Jersey residents have reported being scammed out of money, gift cards, and personally identifiable information.
The FBI noted that for years FBI field offices across the country have received reports of similar phone scams, showing local FBI phone numbers. Called “spoofing,” the calls from the con artists appear to be coming from the FBI on the recipient’s caller ID.
According to Verizon, Caller ID spoofing is the process of changing the Caller ID to any number other than the actual calling number.
“Caller ID spoofing happens when a caller knowingly falsifies the info transmitted to disguise the number they’re calling from,” Verizon explained. “The number that displays on your Caller ID may look as though it’s coming from a government agency, business, or even someone in your contacts list. If the caller’s intent is to defraud, cause harm or scam you into providing info you may not otherwise provide over the phone, the spoofing is illegal.”
The FBI wants the public to know that they do not call or email people to demand money or threaten arrest.
“The caller says they’re an FBI agent and demands money—for school loans, back taxes, even unpaid parking tickets. The caller often knows the name, background, and personal cell phone number of the intended victim,” the FBI stated. “These calls are fraudulent; any legitimate law enforcement officer will not demand cash or gift cards from a member of the public.”
The FBI defines this type of scam as government impersonation fraud, in which criminals impersonate government officials in an attempt to collect money. The criminals often threaten to extort victims with physical or financial harm to obtain personally identifiable information. Scammers are becoming more sophisticated and organized in their approach, are technologically savvy, and often target young persons and the elderly.
The FBI advises the public to protect themselves from falling victim to this scam by always being suspicious of unsolicited phone calls. Do not send money or gift cards to anybody that you do not personally know and trust. Never give out your personal information, including banking information, Social Security number, or other personally identifiable information, over the phone or to individuals you do not know.
Victims of phone or online scams can call the FBI Philadelphia Field Office at (215) 418-4000.
Paul Davis is a Philadelphia writer who covers crime.