Last week I was shocked to receive a phone message from a DEA agent demanding I return his call because my name had come up several times in the investigation of illegal pharmaceutical drugs being smuggled into the U.S.
My heart raced and my first thought was to call and get this mistake straighten out right away. . . Then I remembered hearing about consumer scams in which fake federal agents try to scare consumers to return phone calls, so I decided to first have a chat with Fairfax County Consumer Affairs Investigator Vee Johnson to get the scoop and I’m glad I did.
Me: “Vee, You heard the phone message I received from a man pretending to be a DEA agent. How common is this kind of scam in which the caller knows your name?”
Vee Johnson: “With our personal information everywhere, it’s easy for everyone to know our name. Scams are perennial. Scammers know that when they say our name, we will listen, and the longer we listen, the more they scheme to draw us into their web of deception. Scammers come at you gently with flattery to gain your trust or rough and tough like your caller who used scare tactics to get your attention. If you get a call like this, hang up and report it to the DEA<https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/esor/spring/main?execution=e2s1>. It is a violation of federal law to impersonate a federal agent.”
Me: “What happens if a person calls back a phone number?”
Vee Johnson: “If you call back a number you don’t recognize, you risk being charged for an international call plus minutes. This can quickly add up to $20+. When you call back, it encourages the scammer and they will keep on calling. It’s okay to be curious, but not when strange numbers and voices are involved.”
Me: “What is an example of another type of phone scam people receive this time of year using a scare tactic to trick people into calling back?”
Vee Johnson: “Scammers impersonating the IRS are calling in full force. They know that taxes are on everyone’s mind so they threaten and demand that you send money using a pre-paid debit card, credit card, or wire transfer. Don’t be intimidated. The IRS won’t initiate communication with you or me by phone. If there is something we need to know, the IRS will contact us by mail. If you receive a call, hang up and report it to the IRS<http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Fraud-Alerts>.”
Me: “What should people do if they receive this type of phone call?”
Vee Johnson: “If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, or a voice that doesn’t belong to a family member, friend or colleague, hang up. Don’t let your curiosity cost you $$$$$. No one can protect our personal, financial, and confidential information better than you. You best defense is a hang up!”
In Fairfax County Consumer protection matters are handled by the Consumer Protection Division, which investigates and mediates consumer complaints and tenant-landlord disputes to determine whether consumer protection laws have been violated.
Office: 703-222-8435 (8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday)