Smith: Scammers are out there and your personal info is easy to get — be on guard (column) |

Smith: Scammers are out there and your personal info is easy to get — be on guard (column)

I’d like to take this opportunity to caution your readers about a scam sweeping the Eagle County area. I lived in Vail for more than 20 years and just moved to California in August, so a lot of my old information is still catching up to me:

This morning, someone posing as an agent from the Internal Revenue Service left me a disturbing voicemail (which, despite my moving to California in September, still has a 970 area code) that alluded to an outstanding arrest warrant that was issued against me.

When I called them back, they answered “Internal Revenue Service.” I gave them my name and asked for information about the issue. They confirmed my name, age and mailing address (which changed in September) and told me they tried several times to contact me by mail about a problem resulting from a recent audit. They claimed that since they couldn’t reach me by mail, they issued four arrest warrants against me.

I told them I’ve had mail forwarding since the end of August and am getting all my mail from my previous address. Then, they told me that it was against the law not to update the IRS when I moved.

Being the gullible person I am, I was aghast. Then I started to think. The first red flag occurred when the voicemail indicated that “… I will be taken into custody by the cops.” Nobody from a bona fide arm of the government calls the police “cops.” The agent I spoke to had a thick Indian accent and was extremely confrontational — something I usually don’t encounter when dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security or other governmental organizations.

I asked her, what would you like me to do? She demanded that I make full restitution of $3,012.04 to cancel the arrest warrants. I told her that I was not going to do anything until I received written notice from the IRS about their concerns. That really set her off. She told me if I didn’t make a payment now, I would be arrested.

After I hung up, I described the incident to the person who does my taxes. He related another similar case from someone they knew living in Eagle County and confirmed that the IRS never calls people, nor do they send emails.

I doubt I’ll hear anything more from the scammers. But, it’s easy to see that someone else could have easily fallen prey to their demands and sent them money.

I’d like to say that this is an isolated incident. It was not. I’ve been approached numerous times within the past year from people posing as legitimate entities. Once, someone called me from “Windows support.” Not Microsoft Windows support, but Windows support. Another time, someone from “Dell support” called to tell me that my computer was spewing data and they could help me fix it.

Having worked in the IT industry for 20 years, I can tell you that technology companies never make unsolicited calls to consumers. They simply don’t have the time. You can tell if they’re scammers by asking them, “What is my IP address?” If someone is truly connected to your computer, they’ll have your IP address. That’s usually when they hang up.

Internet and phone scams are both scary and sad. So, please take this message to heart. Spread the word to all of your friends and family to be on the lookout for people who prey on innocent U.S. citizens — especially those at retirement age. They are the most vulnerable.

Tell your parents, aunts and uncles to never respond to requests for money and tell you whenever they get suspicious calls. Never, ever, let someone remotely access your computer unless you’ve taken sufficient care to insure that you’re dealing with bona fide representatives that you contacted.

In the current technology climate, we all have to accept that we’re already being hacked. It’s just a fact. The internet is a wonderful thing. To be able to buy goods and services from the comfort of our home has changed the way we live. However, anyone who connects to the internet for anything is at risk of being scammed. If someone wants to gather information about you, it’s not hard to get. Be on guard.

Allen Smith is a former Vail resident who now lives in Oceanside, California.

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