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Authorities warn of IRS, virtual kidnapping scam

Posted at 3:42 PM, Mar 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-03 19:23:21-05
Irene Corella says she received an automated message on Tuesday that said the IRS is filing a lawsuit against her. She knew right away it wasn't legit. 
"I knew it was fake and they haven't called me back so," she said.
Tucson Police say while this scam is not new, the Financial Crimes unit continues to receive multiple reports a week from people who have received these calls. 
"These guys, they play their percentages and all they need to do is be able to scare one person into complying and that makes that phone call worth it," said Sgt. Rick Radinsky with TPD. "Especially if that person is able to be convinced that they owe a significant amount of money."
Radinsky says the biggest red flag to look out for is the fact that it's a phone call. The IRS typically communicates through mail. And the second red flag: if the caller tells you to get a prepaid card. 
"Law enforcement will not ask for payment and the IRS has said the same thing," said Radinsky. "That's not how they take payment."
He says these callers will create a sense of urgency and may tell you that if you don't pay, police will come arrest you. 
In a second and more terrifying case, a woman reported to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office that she received a call where a man told her he had her brother at gunpoint and would kill him if she didn't put $4,000 on a prepaid card.
She eventually hung up and reported the call and deputies confirmed that both of her brothers were ok.
The Sheriff's Office wrote in a Facebook post about the incident:
"These scammers can be very convincing and know your name, your relatives' names, and other personal information. If you receive a call from someone who mentions a loved one, you may be tempted to believe them, but please make contact with your local law enforcement agency immediately. The scammer will try to keep you on the phone so you can't contact the loved one or law enforcement, but hang up and make the call."
"Take a moment to confirm," said Radinksy. "A lot of the time they're trying to create that sense of urgency so you act very quickly. A quick phone call, text message to that family member or [ask if] somebody knows where that family member is." 
Radinsky says so many people receive the IRS calls, the government created a special form online to report the scam. However, if you fall victim to the scam and lose money, you can file a police report with TPD either online or in person. 
In the virtual kidnapping scam, the FBI provided the following tips: 
  • Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, "How do I know my loved one is okay?"
  • If they don't let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
  • Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
  • While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.
  • To buy time, repeat the caller's request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
  • Don't directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.