by Mitch Lehman
Most recently, the ruse involved a late-night caller telling an often elderly mark that a grandchild who was traveling overseas was in desperate need of immediate, emergency cash.
Others have had the audacity to make random phone calls declaring to be foreigners who have won the lottery and “since I’m not an American citizen, I need your help to cash in the wining ticket” – provided you front a $500 deposit towards a promised half or third of the winnings.
Now, it’s a representative of the “warrant division” of Los Angeles County or a local police department, claiming to be in possession of paperwork calling for your arrest on a monitored red light violation or other sundry offense. The caller will ask the victim to deposit bail money in a PayPal or other “vanilla” account until a court appearance can be arranged. A variation of this scam might also claim that money must be collected for unmet jury duty obligations.
“These are total scams,” said San Marino Police Chief Tim Harrigan during a visit to The Tribune on Monday. “There is a current investigation by the Los Angeles County Court system into these activities. We have been made aware of several phone calls placed to San Marino residents but we do not believe there has been any loss at this point.”
Traffic violations at stop lights generated through remote cameras have been for the time being declared unconstitutional and would not produce a ticket or other request for funds.
A recent email ruse asks recipients to “update your IRS e-file.” The emails appear to be from the IRS and include a link to a phony website intended to mirror the official IRS homepage. These emails contain the direction “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately” and mention USA.gov and IRSgov – without the dot between IRS and gov.
“These emails are not coming from the IRS,” Harrigan said.
Taxpayers who receive these messages should not respond to the email or click on the links. Instead, they should forward the scam emails to the IRS at email@example.com.
“If these were authentic citations or requests from any agency of the United States government, you would receive official notice through the U.S. Postal Service,” said Harrigan. “No local, county, state or federal government agency should request money over the telephone without first sending official notification. If you ever have any questions about these matters we encourage all residents to phone the San Marino Police Department for verification.”
Another form of this scam informs victims that they are exempt from reporting taxes and a refund might be available. The mark is then asked to fill out a lengthy form that includes sensitive information, including bank account data.
“You are basically faxing all of your information that someone can use for identity theft or to deplete your bank account,” Harrigan said. “Again, all of this information should be thoroughly checked with the official agency before you provide anything.”
Harrigan also mentioned that another San Marino resident told the SMPD they had placed a deposit on a residential rental property. The victim located the rental property on a website called Zuily.com. The property that was listed is currently on the market for sale, not rent. The realtor told the SMPD they have received several complaints regarding the same scam, and has since placed a fraud alert on the listed website.
“Always check with your local real estate company, the Los Angeles County Recorder’s office or Realtor.com to confirm the name of the property owner,” Harrigan said.