Another tax season has come to an end, but scammers never give you a break.
The Canton Police Department is warning its residents that a fake IRS scam is still making the rounds, but this time with a disturbing twist.
Local police departments issue warnings from time to time as the number of scam complaints spike. Sadly, the scammers never seem to stop trying to trick people, but the occasional reminders may help some of you avoid losing money.
Community Relations Officer Patty Esselink said the latest calls start with the Canton police name coming up on the caller ID. When residents answer they phone, they are told the police department is calling, you owe money to the IRS, and then threaten them with IRS.
The caller ID trick is called "spoofing," and it's well known to Help Me Hank investigators. It's a nasty trick because Help Me Hank advises consumers to avoid calls if they don't recognize the caller ID.
In this case, people may feel compelled to answer the call because they think the police are calling.
Don't be fooled, don't pick up
Our advice stays the same: Unless you are actually expecting a call from the police, don't answer the call in spite of the caller ID.
If the scammer leaves a bogus IRS threat, just hit delete. If the police are actually calling you, they will leave a message. You should call them back at a number you know is correct and legitimate.
If you're at all suspicious of the call, it's important to find that legitimate number. Be careful about returning a call to any number left by a possible scammer because then you're simply calling the scammers back!
"We will never call you over the phone to tell you pay your warrant or we're going to come out and arrest you," Esselink said.
If you do pick up the phone, never let anyone pressure you into making a quick payment or sharing personal information. Remember, if the person on the other end of the line asks you to do a wireless transfer or use a prepaid debit card, those forms of payments are huge red flags. Scammers always want to use some form of payment that is difficult to track.
Other scams, other cities
This Help Me Hank scam alert isn't just for people in Canton. We've heard horror stories from all over Metro Detroit. So, everyone needs to be on guard. Also, don't forget the fake IRS scam is just one scheme. Canton police say they keep hearing about the Utility Shutoff Scam, Passport threats, and threats dealing with citizenship.
"Any angle, I think that scammers can use in order to convince that person that it is a legitimate call," Esselink said.
Ignore, Resist, Verify, Notify
Because the scammers change their stories and because they use different phone numbers all the time, it's important for you, your family, and your friends to understand this four step approach to dealing with strange phone calls, emails or even text messages.
IGNORE - It's really important that you get caller ID and train yourself to ignore any call if you don't recognize the number. Just don't answer! If it's someone you know, they will leave a message and you can call them right back. Every time you pick up a call from a scam artist, you are telling that scammer you are a live target. The same goes for strange emails, delete them! And, never click on links in emails from someone you're not 100% is a friend or legitimate business.
RESIST - If you answer a call and someone is demanding money or personal information, resist their offers or their threats. It should become obvious that something's not right, depending on which buttons their trying to push.
"If they're really just trying to prey on my emotions or my fear, that's when you should just immediately hang up!" said Melanie Duquesnel, CEO for the local Better Business Bureau in Southfield.
She says you never want to share personal information or make a payment, during that first point of contact, especially when that call comes out of the blue. You can listen (without sharing any of your information) but always remember to hang up and do more research!
You can also come up with a "refusal script" in your head that you can use on any scammer or aggressive sales person to reject their offers. Come up with a way to tell them you always do more research on any offer and it's just a standard procedure that you don't do business without 24 hours to consider the offer.
"You can come off politely, but at the same time firmly," said Duquesnel.
VERIFY - If the caller says something that catches your attention, makes you nervous, or seems worth checking out, do further research to see if what they're saying is true. Remember, never call the numbers they give you for that extra research. Find a legitimate number to call. If you keep calling them back, you could be hearing more lies.
Another good idea, google some of the key facts of the story you've been told. There is a lot of information online about scams that are making the rounds. Victims often post their stories, including the names of the scammers, the phone numbers they've used, and other details that can help you spot a scam.
Be sure to go sources beyond that first call before you spend any money.
"The initial call is never homework. If someone calls you and says 'Hey, you've won a million dollars!' and you consider that your homework, I'm going to say absolutely not! You have flunked out of the how to avoid a scammer class," said Melanie Duquesnel, CEO for the local Better Business Bureau in Southfield.
NOTIFY - Finally, if somebody tries to scam you, tell other people so they can be on the lookout. Share you story with friends, family, and even social media so others know what kind of scams are currently making the rounds and how to spot them.
If you lose money, do not be embarrassed to tell someone. They might be able to help you stop further losses, and again, they will be on the lookout for these fast-talking criminals. It's also important to notify local police when appropriate, the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission, or whatever agency might be able to offer you assistance.
Anyone can fall victim to a scam artist, if the scammer finds the right button to push to pressure them into surrendering their money.
"You must inform. You must share and in doing so you save somebody else," said Melanie Duquesnel, CEO for the local Better Business Bureau in Southfield.