I’ve now heard multiple reports of a particularly heinous telephone scam that’s been targeting Sunnyvale residents lately. The caller identifies himself as being from law enforcement (I’ve now heard the IRS, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, and “Sunnyvale Police” being given), and the caller tells the victim that the call involves overdue tax payments. The caller directs the victim to either issue a check or purchase some sort of prepaid card, and the caller threatens immediate arrest otherwise (one target was told “within 45 minutes”). It’s the severity of the threats that makes this an unusually dangerous scam. The caller is particularly aggressive and officious, pushing back hard on any questioning of the legitimacy of the call.
I’ve no experience with law enforcement, and your first call should be to someone in law enforcement when this happens – either local or the FBI, since these calls seem to be coming from out of state. Here are some thoughts I had on what you should do:
- Take complete notes – the calling phone number, timing, details, get a recording if you can. It’s all evidence, and it may end up being useful. Chances are it won’t be, but you’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
- If you’re up for it, string the guy along. Every minute he spends talking with someone who’s on to his scam is a minute he’s not spending with someone more vulnerable than you.
- Report it to the FBI. It’s a violation of various telecommunication laws, and the guy is impersonating law enforcement to boot. Maybe even banking fraud.
- If you can google the carrier that controls the number, report it to the carrier.
- Tell your friends about this. This is really just like spam – they hit hundreds of people, because having just one person per week fall for the scam makes it profitable. Specifically, tell your friends who are seniors or who aren’t US citizens, since they are more vulnerable and most likely to be intimidated into paying.
I’d love to say “keep him on the line while someone else gets law enforcement involved”, but this isn’t “24”, and it isn’t going to be possible to trace the call in realtime. The evidence suggests the scammers are using cell phones anyway.
But most of all, trust your gut. It’s usually right about things like this.