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News Story
Updated: 04/10/2014 08:00:04AM

Be alert for scam artists and ID thieves

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Have you been surprised to find that someone has already filed your federal tax return for you? Unfortunately, that has been the case this year for some Highlands County residents.

Our friends at the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office say some of those people did not know their identity had been compromised until they tried to file tax returns only to learn that someone had already filed — and gotten their refund.

HCSO Public Information Officer and Crime Prevention Specialist Nell Hays said this is the time of year that law enforcement agencies throughout the country regularly take reports of this type of identity theft.

This year there’s another spin on tax scams. Hays said citizens are getting calls from a scammer pretending to be an IRS agent who tells them of a pending tax debt. The caller threatens the victims with seizure of accounts or arrest if they do not send money immediately. Typically, victims are instructed to get a Green Dot Card or Western Union MoneyGram to pay the debt. That alone is clear signal of a scam. “The IRS will not ask for payment over the phone, nor will they tell you to get a Green Dot Card or Money Gram,” said Sheriff Susan Benton. “Citizens should be prepared for this scam and just hang up on the caller.”

Yet another scam offers money for your good credit. Hays said the sheriff’s office has received information about a caller who offers a $9,000 grant for having good credit. The hook is that you must provide bank information so the money can be transferred to your account. Of course money will not come into your account — instead money will be going out!

Hays reminds residents to never give out personal information, bank account numbers or credit card information over the phone unless they initiated the call and they are absolutely certain they are speaking with a valid representative of whatever company they are doing business with.

The “Grandparent Scam” remains prevalent in our community, too. In this ruse callers indicate that a grandchild has gotten into some kind of situation — typically they are said to be arrested or in a hospital — and that money must be sent immediately to solve the problem. Grandparents should be wary and are encouraged to call another relative to establish the well-being of the grandchild. “Please do not send money, and I’m sure you’ll find your grandchild is just fine,” said Hays.

For more information on frauds and scams, call the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit at 863-402-7369. If you have been a victim of a scam, contact your local law enforcement agency and make a report as soon as possible.

Remember, being informed is the first step to being safe.

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