In the midst of a particularly vexing tax season this year, local law enforcement officers say it bears repeating: the IRS will never call you demanding an instant payment.
Oh, and always be wary of random requests for gift cards as payment for... anything, really.
Maj. Jon Wilks said the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office puts out a public advisory every year when it comes time to file, since scammers impersonating the IRS keep at it. Other scammers look up a sheriff’s office roster and pose as a local officer demanding money to get rid of a warrant, he said — Bedford County included.
Some schemes have meant victims he’s encountered losing up to $10,000.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the major ones coming from out of the country — it’s very hard to nail that down,” he said.
Reports to the FBI can occasionally lead to a major fraud ring getting busted, Wilks said, but an ounce of research and prevention can go a long way.
“If you have any question about sending out money, give us a call first,” he said.
Katie Jennings, fraud expert with the Lynchburg Police Department, echoed that notion, saying people should call in about any unusual requests for money, “even if it sounds stupid.”
“It has nothing to do with how smart a person is; it’s all about manipulating emotions,” she said, adding that many scammers have plenty of experience with such manipulation.
With more people spending time at home or feeling lonely during the pandemic, Jennings said she’s seen more “romance scams,” where someone meets the partner of their dreams through social media, a dating app or some other online method who then starts incessantly asking for monetary favors or gifts.
One victim in Lynchburg lost $100,000 over a few months this way, she said, with the scammer on the other end claiming to need money time and time again, at some point for a visa and a marriage license.
Jennings, who appears on weekly fraud alert videos on LPD’s Facebook page, said she’s also seen an uptick in reports of imposter schemes, with scammers “alerting” people to the unauthorized use of their social security number or bank data and giving bogus instructions to remedy the situation.
Pandemic-related fraud, such as fake offers of COVID-19 tests and vaccines online or offers to get a stimulus check “in advance” have popped up elsewhere, she said, but not locally.
Lt. Michael Bryant, with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, said he hasn’t seen any significant changes in schemes and scams locally during the pandemic, adding that those crime patterns seem to go through cycles based more on the situations of people who perpetuate them.
He also noted reports of scammers posing as law enforcement and asking for payment for a false warrant to be erased and said he's investigated unemployment fraud schemes that operated during benefits expansions during the pandemic.