Just hang up: How to outwit scammers, cons, frauds, swindlers

Tracking the ways of scammers, hackers and fraudsters at a seminar at the Rowley Masonic Community were, from left, Perry Police Department Sgt. Jim Archer, Perry Public Library Director Mary Murphy, Dallas County Chief Deputy Sheriff Adam Infante, Rowley Masonic Community Activity Director Theresa Painter, Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) counselor Lou Hoger and the Minburn Communications team of Kirk Lacquement, network administrator, and Kristi Petersen, marketing and pubic relations manager.

The phone rings. It is your grandson. He says he needs you to send him bail money.

But you do not have a grandson.

The phone rings. It is the IRS. They say you are to be arrested for your unpaid back taxes, but you can settle up with Uncle Sam by buying a certain number of iTunes gift cards.

But you know your taxes are not in arrears.

Phone scams like these are by now so well known, or so you might suppose, that only a suckling infant could possibly be taken in by them, but a statement issued Friday by the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) about a new phone scam perpetrated by people impersonating DPS officials shows the scammers are still preying on victims.

According to the DPS statement, the “scammers are attempting to extort money related to a citizen’s access to a website.” The callers claim they are agents with the DPS’ Division of Criminal Investigation and are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect money, but the liars are lying.

“Some callers are using false agent names and badge numbers,” the DPS said. “Citizens are also reporting that their caller ID devices display a number for the Iowa Department of Public Safety.” It is all fakery.

The DPS recommends that if you get a call from someone who claims to be collecting money on behalf of the DPS — even if a caller ID device shows the DPS — then just hang up. The DPS said it never requests payment over the phone.

Do not provide or confirm any personal information or financial information to anyone who calls. If you receive such a phone call, contact your local law enforcement and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office Hotline at 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590.

Similar scams by Iowa DPS impostors arose in May 2019 and in February 2018. These devilish deception were some from among a wide range of scams and frauds described and analyzed at a recent seminar hosted by the Rowley Masonic Community in Perry.

The many ways of the liars were discussed by Perry Police Department Sgt. Jim Archer, Dallas County Chief Deputy Sheriff Adam Infante, Senior Health Insurance Information Program counselor Lou Hoger, Perry Public Library Director Mary Murphy and two staffers from Minburn Communications, Kirk Lacquement, network administrator, and Kristi Petersen, marketing and pubic relations manager.

A state-level perspective was brought to the discussion by Al Perales, investigator with the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

Scammers often prey on the elderly and the lonely, Perales said, on people raised “when faith, honesty, good will still meant something.”

Hoger gave examples of junk-mail scams that push overpriced knee and wrist braces and of deceptive sellers of “free genetic DNA testing” who use high-pressure scare tactics. The Rowley audience murmured its familiarity with such scams. The best one can do is to simply hang up on them, he said.

Murphy and the Minburn Communications team described the trickery used by identity thieves and data hackers and scammers who use fake caller IDs. They are after bank account and credit card information.

Archer told stories of social-media scams that bilk money from unwary Perry residents, and Infante said he has personally seen cases in Dallas County in which victims have lost more than $100,000 to scammers. A sophisticated phone scam in the fall of 2018 even impersonated the Dallas County Sheriff’s office itself, he said.

They said law enforcement is virtually powerless to investigate and prosecute phone scams. They strongly advise people to simply hang up on the scam callers.

Perales said our goodness, which normally is a strength, becomes a positive weakness and vulnerability when confronting thieves accomplished in the art of the scam. Our gullibility, our readiness and willingness to believe almost anything when it is presented sincerely has long been known. The tragedy of “Othello” hinges on this weakness, and Herman Melville’s 1857 novel, “The Confidence Man,” looks deeply at this trait of human nature.

A recent book by Malcolm Gladwell, “Talking to Strangers,” also makes the point that we are predisposed to believe what we see and hear, that we expect to receive the truth from others and are almost wholly unable to recognize deception in someone who appears to be honest.

A first step in arming ourselves against all scammers is to remember how poorly our brains have evolved to make accurate judgments about the motives of people we do not know. A second step is simply to hang up the phone.

Teresa Painter, assisted living coordinator at the Rowley Masonic Community, moderated the 90-minute series of talks, which was followed by a lively round of questions from the audience, who were all deputized into the Scam Patrol at the end of the event.


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