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Crooks too slow for Byko's Stu-niversity

Grifters try to get your money in lots of ways. Here's a warning.

Byko: Crooks try to scam you out of your money in lots of ways. Here's a warning.
Byko: Crooks try to scam you out of your money in lots of ways. Here's a warning.Read more

IT'S NEVER GOOD to blame the victim, but sometimes you have to wonder how some people manage to tie their shoes without help. (Not you, because you are enrolled in the Stu-niversity.)

At this time of year, you have to be careful about pickpockets in public places and mail-order parcels left on your porch. Your wallet and your delivered goods are tempting targets for thieves.

In addition to outright theft, there is a flock of frauds, such as the IRS scam.

"This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen," said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

TIGTA received reports of more than 20,000 contacts and knows of thousands of victims who were bilked after receiving unsolicited calls from make-believe IRS officials threatening drastic action on nonexistent bills.

Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, George said. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation, or loss of a business or driver's license.

Last week, I got two such calls myself.

Some scammers are very sophisticated. They may know the last four digits of your Social Security number, "IRS" may show up in your caller ID and they may send an email backing them up, George said.

Actually, if the IRS has a problem with you, it will contact you by mail. It will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, nor ask for your credit-card information over the phone. Never give out credit-card information over the phone. Just say no.

While the old Nigerian letter or email scheme seems to have abated, others have arisen.

In my case, the caller from the IRS left a voice mail, which surprised me.

"The majority of phone scammers are out of the country and they use technology called 'spoofing,' " said J.J. Abbott, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, making it almost impossible to trace where they are.

My phone ID said the fake IRS call came from a pay phone in south-central New York state, although the caller left a number from southern Illinois.

In the message, in a voice that sounded robotic, she said she was calling from "Internal Revenue Services," when it is Service, and her grammar was fractured. Example: "The reason of this call," instead of "for this call."

In a different call that seemed to come from San Antonio, it was "Officer Jason Blake calling you from Criminal Investigations and the reason of [sic] my call is to inform you about the warrant that has been issued on [sic] your name for committing tax fraud and tax evasion." He wanted me to call him to "rectify the situation."

Instead of calling "Officer Blake," I called the Attorney General's Office.

Abbott told me that he'd heard of this scam, but that the "grandparent" scam is big now. That's when an elderly person gets a call saying that a grandchild was arrested for DUI (or something) and needs cash for bail.

The attorney general recently arrested four people, two from Philadelphia, who were used as bag men in the grandparent scheme. They had stolen $162,500, it was charged.

The "grandparent" is a variation of a scam in which you receive an email from a friend vacationing overseas who was arrested (or lost a wallet) and needs $200 to get home.

If you get an email or phone call you think is suspicious, Abbott said, hang up and call the agency that supposedly called you. If you suspect a scam, you can report it to the state Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555.

That's not a spoof number.

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky