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Despite warnings, phone scams still prevalent

Phone scams targeting seniors are still prevalent, despite warnings from law enforcement, local officials say.

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson and St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss both say they still receive complaints from the public about calls from people posing as a government agency, such as the Internal Revenue Service, trying to collect a debt.

Photo Credit: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Moss

“We get this complaint all the time,” Moss said. “[Scams about] unpaid taxes is fairly common. Unpaid parking tickets and a warrant for your arrest is also common. We also hear about the long-lost grandson who needs bail money from time to time. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book.”

Jan Hildreth, a local tax consultant, says she has received a significant amount of calls lately from concerned clients.

“In the last two weeks, I’ve probably received five telephone calls from tax clients, and they all received phone calls from people saying they’re with the Internal Revenue Service,” Hildreth said. She said one man got a call from someone posing as an IRS agent, saying they were going to sue him.

“There’s some place out there that happens to be hitting Scappoose, I think,” she said. “These people are scared to death.”

She has been giving most of the callers the same advice: “If someone calls you claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, don’t speak with them, don’t argue with them, just hang up.”

The IRS and Hildreth remind the public that the IRS will never call you or ask for billing information over the phone and will always send written notice if any taxes are owed.

Scams from people posing as IRS agents have become so pervasive, the federal agency posted a warning on its website earlier this year, with tips on what tactics are being used to trick people into giving away their money.

“Potential victims may be told they are entitled to big refunds, or that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS,” a warning on the agency’s website states. “When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.”

Scammers will use fake IRS badge numbers and sometimes may have enough information about their targets to recite the last four digits of a person’s social security number, according to the IRS.

Julie Stephens of the Scappose Senior Center said the center periodically warns local seniors about scams through its newsletter.

“It’s terrible what people are doing to the seniors,” Stephens said. “It does get worse around Christmas and the wintertime. Some of these seniors are very isolated, so you have to reach them and warn them in a different way.”

Dickerson said the Sheriff’s Office warns the public about these scams via its Facebook page and website, but he and Moss admitted that investigating them is difficult.

Photo Credit: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Dickerson

“Generally, people understand this is a scam and are merely giving us a heads up,” Dickerson said. “We lack the resources to be able to investigate these kinds of calls. If someone would actually have been taken by the scam, we would refer the case to the state [Department of Justice] or federal authorities, depending on the nature of the call.”

Moss said tracking down suspects is equally challenging.

“We are almost always left without any leads in these cases,” Moss said. “These crooks would stop doing it if it was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, it works all too often.”

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