The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has received a large number of reports county-wide the past several weeks regarding several different familiar phone scams. These scammers are going to great lengths to trick residents into giving them money. The most active scam right now is the one where the caller poses as a Sheriff’s deputy and tells the resident that there is a bench warrant issued for their arrest because they did not show up for jury duty. The Sheriff’s Office also continues to receive reports of the IRS phone scam, especially this time of year during tax season. In this scenario, the IRS impersonator tells the resident they owe the government money and demands payment over the phone.
The third and most alarming phone scam we continue to see is the virtual kidnapping scam where the caller claims to have kidnapped a family member or friend and demands a ransom payment for their release. While no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat. For example, a caller might attempt to convince a victim that his daughter was kidnapped by having a young female scream for help in the background during the call. They will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure the safe “return” of the alleged kidnapped individual. Most schemes use various techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic, and urgency in an effort to rush the victim into making a very hasty decision. The Sheriff’s Office wants to remind the public that these are scams and if you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim and you suspect it is a scam, hang up the phone, immediately contact family members and notify law enforcement. If you have any question about whether a ransom demand is a scheme or a legitimate kidnapping, contact the FBI or your nearest law enforcement agency immediately.
We do not want to see any of our residents become a victim of these cowardly scams and urge you to never give your personal or financial information out over the phone. If you receive any phone call where you are being asked for money or identifying information, you should immediately hang up and call the Sheriff’s Office or any other law enforcement agency where the caller claims to be calling from to verify the information. Do not be fooled by your caller identification, even if it appears that the number is coming from the Sheriff’s Office or an 805 area code. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information. The Sheriff’s Office wants to remind residents that our agency does not call residents over the phone to notify them of a warrant nor do we take any payments of any kind over the phone.
It’s also important to note that the IRS does not call to demand immediate payment using specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
To report phone scams, call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or visitftc.gov/complaint. For IRS phone scam complaints, please call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484 or use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page at www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.