Agencies' warning: Beware of 2 recent phone scams

Reports: Callers claim to be officials, seek money

March 23, 2011 

One scam focuses on residents throughout the country who might have civil fines they need to pay. The other targets businesses in the state. In both, scam artists use the telephone to contact potential victims.

Tacoma police and the state Department of Revenue on Tuesday warned the public to be wary of both routines.

Over the past several months, the police department has received several reports from people about a scam in which the caller claims to be a law enforcement officer or from a law firm.

The caller says the victim has a civil judgment and owes the court money. To avoid a visit from police and arrest, the victim can provide the caller with a prepaid credit card number or send a money order.

Don’t fall for it, police detective Brad Graham said.

“In no case would it be legitimate for us to ask for money from someone,” he said. “We would not threaten to arrest somebody for not paying civil fines.”

In the past couple of weeks, 14 people have reported getting phone calls from someone claiming to be at a Tacoma law firm, Graham said. The law firm is not involved in the scam.

The scam artists are using a few tricks to make their phone calls seem more legitimate.

In some cases, they give the name of a real police officer from the jurisdiction they claim to represent. They’ve also done some research and might know the victim has a particular bank card or was involved in a civil judgment.

“Those that are good at this will check court records,” Graham said. “They have some legitimate information.”

The scam artists also are able to have a legitimate phone number show up on the victim’s caller ID when they call, Graham said.

Anyone receiving such a call should contact their local law enforcement agency to check its legitimacy. They also should report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission and the state Attorney General’s Office.

Meanwhile, scam artists posing as state revenue employees have been calling businesses in Washington and trying to trick them into dialing an international number that will charge them for the call.

In the scam, the business receives an automated phone call that says the state revenue department has been trying to contact the business regarding its tax account and directs the business to call 800-631-4228.

At that the number, a recording prompts the business to call 10-15-15-8000. If the business does, $7 is charged to its phone account, the revenue department said.

Revenue employees do call businesses that have fallen behind on filing their state excise tax returns. Those businesses are asked to call 800-631-4028 and are not directed to a second, international number.

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