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Scams, identity theft a concern for authorities
MONROE - With the tax season fully underway, authorities across the nation have been trying to make residents aware of possible scamming techniques - be it by phone, mail or through the internet.

"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," Monroe Police Chief Fred Kelley said. "On the other side of the coin, if you don't trust it, call your local police."

The Green County Sheriff's Office posted a reminder on its Facebook page Monday that the IRS does not call taxpayers at home.

"The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information," according to the Facebook post. "In addition, IRS does not threaten taxpayers with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action."

Kelley noted the IRS will never start by asking for money through an email.

"The IRS will set up a meeting to talk with you first. They will jump through hoops to talk to you," Kelley said. "There has to be due process."

Tactics like these are telltale signs of a phishing scheme - a form of internet fraud - or a tax scam that could cost a resident hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

But not all scams or cases of identity theft are the same. Many scams don't threaten the caller with the promise of prison or a lawsuit if payments or information are not shared. Sometimes those callers pretend to be charitable organizations. Scammers imitate the methods real charities use to solicit donations, such as contacting potential donors by phone, email, mobile devices, the internet or face to face, according to the Federal Trade Commission's website,

Other methods of identity theft include online hacking, which could use computer viruses or malicious software to gain background information from personal computers and devices.

Lois Wandfluh of Monroe tried to use an online resource to have her computer fixed but while using the service became nervous about having given out her personal information.

"I was concerned because my computer - I couldn't use it," Wandfluh said. "They were cleaning it, and then they turned around and had to clean it again. It took a long time, and I was communicating with them over the phone. It all boiled down to they were going to save me from this bad stuff that was happening to me."

Wandfluh said she had been hacked before and had information stolen, so she was on the lookout for being duped again.

"Before, they almost got all my information," Wandfluh said of her previous incident. "This time, I thought they were on the level. So, I gave them my information. I didn't give them everything, but I gave them enough where they felt they could sign me up for a two-year situation where I would be protected. And I had to pay them $519, and they would take the information over the phone."

She went to her bank the following business day and was able to get her funds into a new account with a new number and debit card.

"I went along with it. It happened on a weekend. I went in on Monday and changed my checking account and everything," Wandfluh said. "I felt it was a bad experience."

Identity theft is a growing security threat across the United States and the world. The federal government has a website dedicated to reporting and recovering data stolen by identity thieves:

Steps of reporting identity theft include calling the companies where the fraud may have occurred, placing a fraud alert with a credit bureau, getting private credit reports, reporting the theft to the FTC and, if desired, filing a report with the local police department.

In 2017, hackers stole personal information on 145.5 million consumers from credit agency Equifax, according to Senate Banking Committee documents. That number accounts for slightly less than half of all Americans. Equifax is one of the three major credit bureaus that collect consumer credit information; the other two are Experian and TransUnion.

"It really frightens me," Wandfluh said of the threat of internet data breaches. "Here is this computer system that goes all over the world, and we don't know how much damage has been done with all the information that's been taken."

At the local level, Kelley said scams are reported roughly once a month and identity thefts about once a week, but that the department itself is small and has limited technology to catch the perpetrators.

"Phone calls are rough," he said. "The phone book shows you how to do call forwarding, and if (they) can do that three or four times, good luck finding them. It might be someone from a faraway state or even another country. I just don't even answer calls I don't know anymore, because I get them every day."

Kelley said the most common scams are all variations of each other and that scamming has seemed to become an international pastime. He described one that claims to be from a Nigerian king and one that says the recipient won the Swedish lottery but needs to pay operation fees before the award is sent. Another is what Kelley called the "grandparents scam."

"Someone calls and says it is their grandson in jail in Salt Lake City or somewhere thousands of miles away and needs money transferred by Western Union for bond. People can come to the police department and we can look that up, because sometimes people says it sounds just like their grandson. We can even take the bond and we'll get that money to where it needs to go," he said.

Kelley added: "If there is an email that you don't know what it is, or an attachment that you are worried about, just don't open it."