Scammers gather info, target seniors the most in Clark County phone schemes

Last year, Clark County resident Cheryl Misch’s phone rang. The 63-year-old knew something was off from moment the caller claimed to be working for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The voice on the other end of the line told her that she and her husband owed more than $500 in unpaid back taxes and they needed to pay now — or else she and her husband would be arrested.

“He said we’ll have someone in front of your house in about 15 minutes if you don’t pay this,” Misch said. “He said, ‘We’re just trying to collect this debt so you don’t go to jail.’”

Thankfully, Misch trusted her gut instinct and refused to give the caller any information.

“I said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go to prison,’” Misch said.

Misch’s story is a common one, but unfortunately, the outcome isn’t.

Seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year from financial exploitation, according to the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging.

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One of the most popular ways for scam artists to secure personal information from a victim is impersonating an IRS agent.

Con artists and criminals impersonating official government personnel — pretending to work for the IRS, the Social Security Administration or Veterans Affairs, among other government services — is a problem nationally.

The most alarming part of the scam, at least for Misch, was that the caller claiming to be from the IRS already knew so much of her information.

“He had my name and my phone number,” Misch said.

The caller knew her address, her husband’s name.

“I felt violated,” Misch said.

‘They take their chances’

John North, president and chief executive of the Dayton Better Business Bureau which is also covers Clark County, said elderly residents are most likely to fall victim to a scam.

“Oftentimes, these victims are the most vulnerable in our community,” North said. “Oftentimes, it’s seniors in our community who fall victims to these scams.”

In addition to IRS phone scams, North said other popular scams that elderly citizens fall victim to are lottery and sweepstakes scams.

“It’s always the same. They get a call that they won the lottery in Jamaica and they need to pay some sort of fee, whether it be taxes up front or something else,” North said. “They have to pay this fee in order to get the rest of the money.”

The money, of course, never arrives.

“I think these are the most common because scam artists have good luck at them,” North said. “When people get calls or emails about them they recognize the name, like Publishers Clearing House, they know that Publishers Clearing House is legitimate, they know people win money, so they take their chances.”

But the chances of winning Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes is slim, so much so that if you search “Publishers Clearing House” on Google, the second result is, “Has anyone ever really won Publishers Clearing House?”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the chances of winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes is 1.7 billion.

‘All your information is out there’

Another scam preying on senior citizens is their love for their grandchildren.

“Elders do fall victim to the grandparents scam,” North said. “The scam artist will call the grandparents in the middle of the night so maybe they are just waking up and are confused and they will tell them that their grandchild is in trouble in Canada and in order for them to be released, they must wire money.”

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Ryan Black, a detective with the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, said some Urbana residents have been targeted with a variation of the “grandparents scam.”

“We have had some residents fall victim to the scam where a person will call them in the middle of the night and pretend to be an police officer. They will tell them that their grandchild is in custody and that the only way to get them out of trouble is to pay,” Black said.

Much like Misch’s story, Black said sometimes callers will have personal information about the person they are targeting.

“It’s not hard to get information about people. If you Google me you can pull up my address, you can find their spouse, what they do,” he said. “All your information is out there.”

According to the BBB’s Risk Report, the overall median dollar loss to scams fell 33.3 percent, from $228 in 2017 to $152 in 2018. But, consumers lost money more often when exposed to a scam. Susceptibility, or the percentage of consumers who lost money when exposed to a scam, increased an 86.7 percent in 2018.

The report goes on to say that the sharp spike in susceptibility could be due to consumer’s increased use of technology, as online shopping becomes more popular.

‘There is a 95 percent chance you aren’t going to see that money again’

If you do manage to find yourself a victim of the grandparents scam or any other, who do you reach out to for help? Is there any way to reclaim your lost funds?

Black says yes and no.

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“It’s hard,” Black said. “A lot of these scammers are from out of state, out of the country. There is only so much we can do.”

Black said the first thing the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office does when a scam is reported is send it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The AG’s office is in charge of following leads on scams that have been carried out in the state.

In the last month, the AG’s office has filed lawsuits based on complaints from victims allegedly scams involving tech support, car titles and home repairs.

While lawsuits help consumers seek restitution, a lawsuit can only be brought against residents who live in Ohio. If victims are scammed by someone outside the state, or the country, there isn’t much the state attorney general can do except pass the information along to the United States Attorney General.

These lawsuits represent a small fraction of victims, Black said.

“I would say that if you are a victim, there is a 95 percent chance you aren’t going to see that money again,” he said. “It’s just too hard to track people down and hold them accountable.”

North said that local police departments are becoming more proactive in letting residents know about scams that are circling within the area, but he echoes Black.

“There is only so much they can do,” North said.

Billion dollar industry

Because of the inability to track down culprits, the scamming industry continues to become more profitable every year.

“It’s a billion dollar industry,” North said. “We don’t have an accurate amount of how much money is lost every year because not everyone reports being scammed, but it’s several billions.”

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North and Black said there are things you can do to avoid finding yourself a victim.

“First thing is to be proactive, keep your credit cards in your wallet,” North said. “Never give out personal information — bank account numbers or credit card information — over the phone unless you have met the person on the other end in person.”

Since IRS scams are becoming more popular, North said it’s never a bad idea to file your taxes as quickly as possible.

“As soon as you get your W-2’s, file,” North said. “This will prevent anyone from filing in your name or filing with your information. It will also help if you get phone calls, you are less likely to believe someone is calling you from the IRS about your taxes if you have already filed your taxes.”

It’s also important to remember that the IRS will never contact you by phone, North said, the first time someone from the IRS will make contact with you is by mail.

“The IRS will never call you. They will never ask for your credit card information over the phone,” North said. “The IRS will never ask you to pay them with pre-paid debt cards. If you did not receive a letter from the IRS, hang up.”

Black said that a sheriff’s department will also never ask you for money over the phone.

“We would never ask you to pay bail over the phone,” Black said. “We don’t even deal with bail. That would come from a completely separate bail bondsman. The only thing we would do is reach out to a family member and let them know there has been an arrest.”

North said the most important thing to do is to follow your gut.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” North said.

Staff Writer Thomas Gnau contributed to this report.

Top 5 riskiest scams of 2018:

1. Employment: A job offer comes with high pay and options to work remotely with flexible hours. To get the job, a candidate must complete forms that require personal information and may be required to "purchase equipment."

2. Online purchase: A buyer makes a purchase online from an individual seller or company, but the item never arrives.

3. Fake check/money order: A check is sent to a consumer that contains an "accidental overpayment" or other overage. The scammer asks the consumer to wire back the excess money. The check appears real and "clears," but weeks later the bank discovers the check is phony.

4. Home improvement: Door-to-door solicitors offer quick, low-cost repairs and then either take payments without returning, do shoddy work, or "find" issues that dramatically raises prices.

5. Advance fee loan: A loan that is "guaranteed," but comes with upfront charges. When the charges are paid, the loan never materializes and the applicant is left with larger debts.

Source: 2018 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report

Riskiest scam by age:

18-24: Employment

25-34: Employment

35-44: Online purchases

55-64: Romance

65+: Investment

Source: 2018 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report

Recognize scams:

■ If you’re contacted with a surprise offer for “free” money or “fast” cash, there’s a good chance that you’ve been targeted by a scam artist.

■ If you’re told you “must” act quickly or in a very short time, be wary. Legitimate financial transactions take time, and they should be well understood.

■ Another red flag may be the best: If it seems too good to be true. then it probably is. Use your common sense, and keep that wallet closed.

Source: AARP Foundation

Surprise phone call?

Here are some questions you should ask:

■ Who’s calling and why?

■ What’s the hurry?

■ If it’s free, why am I being asked to pay anything at all?

■ Why do I need to “confirm” my account information — or even give it to you?

■ Do you want more calls like this one? If not, register with the “Do Not Call” registry,

■ More guidelines: Dayton Daily News 12/12phonescams#Protect Source: Federal Trade Commission

Surprise Pop-Up message on your computer?

How to respond:

■ Ignore unexpected pop-up messages offering “tech support. This could cause additional pop-ups, malware and invalid phone numbers to flood your device. Instead, close your browser and restart your computer.

■ Use antivirus software and a firewall from a reputable company and run updates regularly.

■ Enable pop-up blockers. Pop-ups are regularly used by scammers to spread malware. Always backup content on your computer.

Source: Better Business Bureau

Ways to report fraud:

■ AARP Foundation Facebook:



Report Fraud: 1-800-222-4444

Option 2:

Federal Trade Commission:

Complaint Assistant website:

Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker website:

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