BBB advice for seeing through a scammer’s disguise

Things are not always what they seem.

Certainly, during the trick-or-treat season, we’re used to the charmingly disguised characters who come to our door. But throughout the year, there are those who seek to fool consumers with much more malevolent purposes.

They come in many disguises: As agencies of the federal government, local law enforcement, tech support from computer companies, our utility companies, our financial institutions, disaster relief charities, sellers on Craigslist, well-known department stores … the list goes on and on.

The Better Business Bureau has advice for how to avoid becoming another victim of these scammers.

Recent progress

There are few of us who have not encountered the IRS legal action scam. It works like this:

A phone caller posing as an agent with the IRS notifies you that there are serious problems with your tax return. Payment is demanded and legal action threatened. According to the IRS, more than 5,000 people have been victimized by this scam and more than $26 million has been lost.

Recently, a series of raids have shut down nine call centers in Mumbai, India, from which many of these scams had originated. The BBB reports a dramatic downturn in the number of reported cases of the scam since.

Experience has shown, however, that such scams often have a resurgence — remember how “Rachel from Card Services” continues to haunt — and the BBB warns that the problem may not be completely resolved.

Watch out for these tricks

Consumers should watch out for these tip-offs that a scam is in the works:

▪ You are contacted from out of nowhere by someone via e-mail or phone call. They are requesting either money or information that they should already have.

▪ Someone requests that you send payment in the form of a gift card. Recently, iTunes gift cards have become a popular request. Gift cards are easily resold for cash and difficult to trace back to their original source.

▪ You are told that you must act immediately. Whether they are requesting payment or claiming you have won some sort of lottery and must pay an upfront fee, scammers depend on a sense of urgency to keep you off balance and to give you less time for contemplating the implications of their demands.

Any legitimate business or agency will have a means for you to get back to them regarding the transaction.

▪ A deal promises a big return on a small investment with very low risk. No matter how convincingly they make their case, don’t believe them. Scammers are often experts at verbal manipulation.

Technology’s role

Don’t overlook the role that technology can play in a scammer’s scheme.

Almost anything can be hacked or faked with the proper technology.

▪ Your Caller ID readout cannot be trusted. Scammers can make it read any way they wish. Their actual identity will not show up. The readout can say “IRS” or your county’s sheriff department or anything else they desire.

▪ Background noise behind the caller’s voice can be faked to sound like a busy office. Fake phone numbers for you to return calls to, fake names and fake badge numbers are all common.

Report your scam experience to local law enforcement as well as to the Federal Trade Commission.

Also, don’t overlook reporting your experience to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us.

Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the BBB at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.