City of Ukiah, California

Police Department

Safety · Professionalism · Community Service

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Free Money – NOT!

The other day I received an unsolicited phone call promising me free money. Imagine that: a nice prize just waiting for me to claim it. The caller excitedly explained that if I could provide just a few personal details to confirm my identity, the thousands of dollars would be mine!

I have written about these telephone scams before, but the information is worth repeating because these scammers really are good at trying to steal your money. 

Unfortunately, when things in life seem too good to be true, you should be suspicious. People rarely have money just sitting around to give away to strangers. The best thing you can do if someone offers you free money is to hang up before you give out personal information that people could later use against you.

I know it can be hard to hang up. These scammers do their homework about you before they call so they sound legitimate, but they aren’t. To get your money, they will promise a great vacation or contest prizes. Or instead of gifts, they’ll threaten to arrest you or suspend your driver’s license if you don’t give them what they want.

If this happens to you, hang up before you proceed with that suspicious call. These are old scams but the scammers don’t seem to tire of them, and with the promise of free money or threats, it’s often hard for us to hang up.  

These phone scams include many variations. Sometimes crooks pretend to be IRS representatives saying you owe money. Other times they say you are entitled to a huge tax refund or a prize. In any case, these scammers are actually after your money, and as soon as they start asking for your personal information you should become very suspicious.

In the past, these crooks have used sophisticated deception techniques to target recent immigrants and the elderly. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and must pay promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are threatened with arrest, deportation, or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

Characteristics of these scams can include:

  • Scammers using fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names to identify themselves.

  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.

  • Scammers “spoof” or imitate the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear as though they are calling from the IRS.

  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to victims to reinforce their bogus calls.

  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call center.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do: if you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue—if such an issue actually exists.

One of the most common telephone scams involves people pretending to collect money for a charity, fundraiser, or recent emergency. Before you decide to donate, it’s always a good idea to do some investigating to make sure you know where your money is going.

On our website, we’ve posted a guide to help you decide how to give and which charities to give to: http://ukiahpolice.com/community-support/guide-for-charitable-giving.

Especially now, with our desire to help local fire victims, telephone scams can be right around the corner. Before you give, check out whom you are giving your money to.

Finally, I think our best tool in deterring and preventing crimes is our instincts. If you think something is wrong, it probably is. Please call and check before acting.

As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to call me. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cell phone and email notifications, by clicking the Nixle button on our website www.ukiahpolice.com. 

By: Chris Dewey - Chief of Police


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Safety · Professionalism · Community Service