Phone scammers target Madison County residents
Know how to protect yourself, your money and your personal information
MADISON COUNTY—Tax season is a popular time for scam artists to attempt to steal funds and assets from unsuspecting victims, and a new phone scam has popped up in Madison County in recent weeks.
Unlike some scams, where the caller pretends to be from the IRS or another government agency claiming you owe money, this scam seems much more positive on the surface. The caller identifies themselves as representing Publishers Clearing House and their famous cash giveaways and identifying the receiver that they’ve won a significant amount of money.
“He claimed I had won $115,000 and that I was to call this toll-free number to claim my prize,” says one Twin Bridges resident who received a call. “Instead of calling the toll-free number I called the same number back and was told there wasn’t enough money in my bank account to call that number.”
Other potential victims of the PCH impersonators have been told that they’ve won a secondary prize and must pay a fee to access their reward money.
Fortunately, this would-be victim was wary enough to call Publishers Clearing House, where they were directed to the fraud department, and told that the real PCH doesn’t contact any winners by phone. They show up—as is shown in their famous television advertisements—unannounced at a winner’s house, balloons and champagne in hand.
But many aren’t so lucky. Americans lose billions of dollars each year due to scam artists, so knowing how to protect yourself is essential.
The impersonators in this case are especially advanced, with callers often using the real names of PCH employees. Publishers Clearing House took to their website to identify how Americans can protect themselves from losing personal information and funds.
PCH says if you receive a check in the mail claiming you’re a winner, do not cash it. It’s probably a fake check, and oftentimes the caller will return later telling you that the check has bounced and that you now owe them a considerable amount of money.
If you get an email, online friend request, social media message or phone call saying you’ve won a prize that you never applied for, ignore and delete it. PCH says the adage rings true in the case of sweepstakes: if it seems too good to be true, it is.
In the case of phone scams, calling back probably won’t help either. Often, numbers that call back to the scam artists are then placed on a list that the scammers will share, and you could end up getting dozens of calls from other people attempting to steal money.
“At PCH, you never have to pay to claim a prize,” says the organization. “Recognizing the difference between legitimate sweepstakes and other types of offers that may not be legitimate will help you protect yourself. If someone contacts you claiming to be PCH and tells you that you’ve won a prize, then asks you to send a payment, stop. You have not heard from the real PCH.”
The Montana Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) says that you should never give your personal or banking information to someone over the phone. The IRS and banks will never contact you via phone to ask for information, and the IRS will always send you a warning letter if you owe money, as well as allowing you to appeal if you believe there’s been a mistake. If a caller claims to be from the IRS, they probably aren’t.
Scammers generally try to get victims to send them money in the form of gift cards or prepaid debit cards, as they are usually much more difficult to trace and allow for easy spending. But any reputable institution will not ask for something of the kind, so be wary of callers asking for a wire transfer or telling you to purchase and send them gift cards.
Callers also often resort to high-pressure tactics, sometimes even threatening that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay immediately. Again, this isn’t something the real IRS or a real bank would ever do, so resist the threat of frightening repercussions. Stay calm, hang up and rest assured that nobody is coming to arrest you, unless you’ve committed legitimate tax fraud.
If they do get ahold of banking information, the OCP says, scam artists won’t necessarily try to immediately drain your bank account. Always keep a close eye on bank and credit card statements, watching for suspicious charges of any amount. Sometimes scammers attempt to slowly siphon money out of an account, and those small charges add up quickly over time before they’ve even been noticed.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a fraud or have received suspicious phone calls or emails, you can contact the National Fraud Center at www.fraud.org You can also report frauds to the Montana Office of Consumer Protection by calling 1-800-481-6896.