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Phishing scams not just online

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- While military members are accustomed to learning about online phishing attempts through annual training, they must also be aware of other attempts to glean money and/or personal information from them as well.

Scammers, posing as members of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, are calling local residents requesting money to clear a bench warrant, according to a Feb. 18 media release.

Officials said callers are going so far as to give actual deputy names and phony badge numbers to convince victims to give them money.

"The Sheriff's Office would like to remind citizens that our office never calls and informs individuals they have an active warrant and never asks individuals to make payments to clear up a warrant," the release said. "We will also never call to ask for money, for any reason."

Typically, the callers will say the warrant is for a failure to appear for jury duty. Due to residency and frequency of moves, military members may become targets for these types of scams.

"Jury duty notifications, or summonses, are sent via the U.S. Postal Service in accordance with USPS standards," said Special Agent Spencer Sade, Air Force Office of Special Investigations. "Each summons is run through a process to check for the most recent address available."

Members receiving a call should get as much information as possible from the caller. They will need to report the call to both OSI and EPCSO.

"No member should ever give a caller in this situation credit card information, send the caller money or divulge any other personally identifying information," Sade said.

This time of year it's also common for scammers to pose as IRS officials. In a Jan. 20 press release, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, J. Russell George, advised taxpayers to be on "high alert" this filing season.

"The phone fraud scam has become an epidemic, robbing taxpayers of millions of dollars of their money," George said. "It is critical that all taxpayers continue to be wary of unsolicited telephone calls and emails from individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees. This scam has proven to be the largest of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive and relentless."

Military members in Colorado have been targeted by this scam, and the scammer(s) displayed both aggression and threatening language in an attempt to intimidate members into giving the scammer money.

According to the release, "The scam has hit taxpayers in every state in the country. Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a prepaid debit card, money order or wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with being charged for a criminal violation, a grand jury indictment, immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver's license."

These scammers are sophisticated enough to manipulate the phone system so it appears as though the call is coming from an official agency. The IRS will generally initiate contact with taxpayers by mail and will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, money order or wire transfer and will not ask for a credit card number over the phone.

Callers posing as officials and law enforcement officers aren't the only type of phone scams affecting military members. Staff Sgt. Debbie Lockhart, 50th Space Wing, recently received a phone message from someone claiming they had processed a bad check in her name.

"This is the Premier Portfolio Group calling about a bad check processed by our office," the message said. "The check has your name, Social Security number, account number and routing number attached."

Lockhart said the message made her suspicious because she doesn't use checks to make purchases and had never heard of the organization leaving the message.

"The message itself just didn't seem legitimate to me," she said. "The man's voice didn't leave me a number to call. He just said 'call the number on your caller ID.'"

An internet search for the group yielded top results for websites dedicated to exposing scams, confirming Lockhart's suspicions of a scam. She thought about ignoring the call, but decided to report it after discussing the situation with her coworkers.

"I'm glad I saved the message and reported it to OSI," she said. "An OSI agent listened to the voicemail and agreed this was a phishing attempt. The agent took note of the organization who had called me and assured me I did the right thing by coming to them."

The report adds the organization to OSI's radar and allows OSI to determine whether or not the organization is specifically targeting military members.

Lockhart said she has not received any other calls from the company, and credited her annual phishing training for preventing her from falling victim to the scam.

"As military members, we are required to complete annual training, and although it can be daunting, it's really important to pay attention and retain the information because it can help protect us from outside threats," Lockhart said. "I definitely think the information I learned during the required phishing training gave me the tools to identify this as a scam, and in turn protected me from becoming a victim of identity theft."
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