Weekly Columns

How many times have you received an email like this: “You are required to complete our account verification process and confirm your information.” While it may sound official and the email may even look authentic, thieves are using this approach to get bank account numbers and steal money. 

In our high-tech world, there seems to be no end to the ways criminals try to steal our money, our identity or both. Whether it’s mundane looking emails from a trusted company, a fantastic offer for an international lottery or a frightening phone call from a person pretending to be from the IRS, we all need to be alert to the dangers of these modern day swindlers. 

Arkansans frequently reach out to my office to report suspicious emails or telephone calls. My staff gets them to the right places to file a complaint and lets officials know about scams popping up in Arkansas. 

The most common complaints to my office in recent months have involved imposter IRS agents and phony tech support personnel. 

In 2014, the IRS initiated 1,063 identity theft related investigations. Criminal investigation enforcement efforts resulted in the sentencing of nearly 750 thieves posing as IRS agents -  some with prison sentences as long as 27 years. 

A thief posing as an IRS agent calls and tries convince unsuspecting taxpayers they need to use a money order to pay an overdue tax bill or they put out a warrant for your arrest. The reality is the IRS does not collect a tax debt over the phone or via email. The agency first makes contact through the mail. 

Last year, Microsoft increased its efforts to combat the scams that use the company’s name. Crooks have been known to use the business’s name and claim a computer in the home isn’t working working properly or that its systems detected a virus or malware. What they want is access to computer records in order to steal personal or financial information. Microsoft says it never calls a customer to ask for this data. 

There are number of ways to combat these criminals. First, make sure your phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry and check out the resources available to identify and prevent scams. The FBI has an entire section on its website for scams and safety, and the Federal Trade Commission has useful alerts and information on the latest problems. 

Unfortunately, there are too many variations of scams to list them all.  However, the old adage holds true that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Likewise, if someone calls out of the blue and makes something sound too horrible to be true, that may also not be accurate. 

Be cautious in order to not become a victim of a scam. Report questionable activity in order to prevent your family, friends and neighbors from falling victim. As always, if you have any concerns or comments involving the federal government, do not hesitate to call one of my state offices. My staff and I are happy to help.