Phone Scammers: What They Want and How to Protect Yourself


People in Carter County receive thousands of scam phone calls every year. For a lot of people the calls are just annoying, but for some a scam can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Fortunately though, they can be easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. Here are some of the scams we see on a regular basis, and some tips on what you can do to avoid getting defrauded.


Common Scams


The IRS Scam

Someone calls you and claims to work for the IRS or law enforcement. They tell you that you owe taxes and the IRS is demanding immediate payment. In some cases, they may tell you to call a number or tell you that you are receiving a refund. The goal is always to get your personal information or money.


STEPS YOU CAN TAKE: Call the IRS and ask them if you owe or are owed money. (You can call 800-829-1040, or for the local IRS Office call 423-610-7050.) Do not call a number that a caller leaves for you, use the official IRS line. That way you know you’re dealing with genuine agents, not a potential con artist. You can also report scams where someone is posing as an employee of the federal government to the Federal Trade Commission.


The Bail Bond Scam

A caller tells you that a friend or relative is in jail and they need bail money. They could pose as a friend, as a corrections officer, or as a bond agent. The caller may even know the name and personal information of your relative. They may tell you that you need to send money for bail over the phone, or they may try to meet in person.


STEPS YOU CAN TAKE: Ask which specific facility the caller says your friend or relative is being held in, then hang up and either call or visit the facility. Ask the corrections staff if that person is booked in or not. If the information turns out to be correct, contact the bail bonding agency separately, using its business line, to make sure you’re speaking with a real bonding agent.


The Warrants Scam

A caller tells you he or she works for law enforcement and that there is an active warrant for your arrest. Then the caller demands payment of some form to clear the warrant.


STEPS YOU CAN TAKE: Someone demanding payment for a warrant is ALWAYS doing something illegal. Even if you have a warrant, demanding payment to clear it from the logs is illegal: it’s either a scam or extortion.


The great thing in Carter County is that we have an app that lists all of our arrest warrants! You can download the Neighborhood Cleanup app on your smart phone or view it on our website. That way you’ll be able to immediately check if you have a warrant. If you do have a warrant for your arrest, DO NOT pay someone to get rid of it! That is highly illegal. Instead, you should turn yourself in at the Carter County Detention Center, or you can call our dispatch and have a deputy come pick you up. Otherwise, we’ll have to arrest you the hard way, which can be considerably less pleasant for you and for us.


The Credit Card Scam

There are thousands of different credit card scams. They come in every variety you can imagine, and the only commonality between all of them is that their goal is to get your credit card information illegally. You could get a call from someone who says a credit card didn’t go through on a pizza you ordered, or you could get a call from a scammer posing as your credit card company itself. Scammers will offer everything from free cruises to stock investment opportunities.


STEPS YOU CAN TAKE: Just try to use some common sense. If someone calls you out of the blue and asks for your credit card information, you should be immediately skeptical. Often, the best thing to do is just hang up if it seems like someone wants your credit card number. If there’s good reason to believe that it might be a legitimate call, then verify, verify, verify! There’s no rush for you give out your financial information, and if the caller is trying to rush you, that’s good reason to believe it’s a scam.


Trust, Fear, and Not Getting Scammed


Scammers generally take a couple of approaches: they either try to gain your trust or scare you into giving them money. When scammers want to gain your trust, they might try a few different tactics. They can try to appear helpful or friendly, so that you are more likely to feel like they are on your side. They can also try to establish credibility by posing as a government official or an employee for a company you use. Scammers who want your trust will always try to establish rapport with you before they try to get your money or personal information.


The scare tactics are common in our area, and they are quite dangerous. Scammers will try to convince that something terrible will happen unless you act immediately, generally by sending money to them. The ploy they use to scare you varies, they may tell you something bad will happen to you, or they may say something bad will happen to a relative of yours. Unless, of course, you pay them.


Keep in mind that scammers may already have information about you or your loved ones. They may know where you live, the names of your kids, or what you do for living. Scammers use this kind of information to either help establish trust or to scare their victims. You shouldn’t trust someone simply because they know your personal information. There are lots of ways, legal and illegal, that they could have gained that information.


The most important thing you can do to avoid being a scam victim is to be skeptical of people who want money or personal information, and to independently verify anything a cold caller might tell you. They say they’re calling from your bank? Call your bank and find out. They say you’ll be arrested if you don’t send payment? Call law enforcement and ask if that’s true. Asking questions is one of the best ways to determine whether a caller is a scammer. And if you realize a caller is trying to scam you, hang up immediately. There’s nothing to gain by continuing to talk to them.


Can’t the Sheriff’s Office Do Anything about These Calls?


Unfortunately, we usually can’t do much about scam phone calls, even if you have caller ID and give us a phone number. The criminals who make these calls almost always use software that allows them to spoof other phone numbers while hiding their real number. This makes it practically impossible for us to trace the number. It could be anyone, anywhere in the world.[efn_note]The number changing apps are also why you get a lot of scam calls from 423 area code numbers. Criminals know you’re more likely to answer a local area code, so they use the area code of the people they’re trying to target.[/efn_note]


The only way we can really investigate a scam call is if we can prove the call originated inside of Carter County, which is very hard to do considering that many scammers are using apps that spoof local phone numbers. So in general, we can offer advice on whether something is a scam, but it is rare that we can launch an investigation. The best thing to do is take precautions, stay skeptical of cold callers, and don’t send money or give personal information to people over the phone. That will help you avoid getting scammed. You can also take advantage of some the additional resources listed below.


Senior Living: Common Scams that Target the Elderly

Common IRS Scams

Report a Scam to the Federal Trade Commission

Report an Internet Scam to the FBI


— Thomas Gray, Public Information Officer