PORT DOUGLAS — Donna Douglas knew the message left on her home answering machine was a scam, so she saved the recording.
Purported to be "an official final notice" from the U.S. Treasury, it concerned a "legal petition notice concerning a tax fraud," and the automated female voice urged a response "before you get arrested.
"Please call immediately on our hotline," the message concluded.
When the next call came, she absentmindedly picked up the receiver without checking the number it came from.
She heard a similar message, she said, "telling me I'd better act soon."
Douglas, who's 69, jotted down the numbers and put in a call to the Attorney General's Office.
"They gave me another number, and (the next place she called) gave me another number," she said.
DON'T PAY BY GIFT CARD
But eventually someone gave her a U.S. Treasury website where she was able to fill out a form with information that included the phone numbers the calls had come from and any other details she could share.
"I haven't gotten any more calls," she said Monday, a few weeks after the first one. "But I've had so many callers from crazy numbers."
She figures those area codes unfamiliar to her from beyond the North Country indicate possible swindlers at work.
"That's why I don't answer them."
A visit to that U.S. Treasury website shows a wealth of tips and warnings about IRS scams, including this one: "Do not use iTunes Gift Cards to pay your taxes."
Calls making fake IRS demands not only tell their victims to use those gift cards but also on Green Dot Prepaid Cards, MoneyPak Prepaid Cards, Reloadit Prepaid Debit Cards and other prepaid credit cards, the site says.
Learn more at: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.
SOME SCAMS SUCCEED
According to a YouGov survey commissioned by call-blocking business CPR Call Blocker, about 89 percent of adults receive unwanted calls every month — some intended to cheat them out of hard-earned cash and others soliciting business of some kind.
And it identified the top five types of scams that have fooled people.
The most prevalent at 33 percent, the survey said, are fake IRS calls.
Next, at 31 percent, are credit/loan scams, followed by lottery/sweepstakes swindles at 27 percent.
Banking scams came in at 22 percent, with 16 percent of calls aimed to trick people out of money falling into the automated-message category.
"Of those who have been scammed, 20 percent said they had lost between $500 and $10,000 as a result," a press release from Call Blocker said.
Some swindles come knocking on the door. Among them are paving scams, which start circulating as the weather grows warm.
Since March 1, Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York has received more than 6,300 inquiries from the public about paving contractors.
Most of the reports, the BBB said in a press release, start the same way, with someone coming to the front door and saying, “We were doing a job down the street and had leftover material — do you want us to do your driveway, too?”
And, the release said, many people report a loss of money, some upward of $1,000.
'JUST SAY NO'
How can you avoid paving scams?
If someone knocks on your door, BBB said, just say no.
Here are some tips from the organization to avoid paving and other home-improvement ripoffs:
• Avoid high-pressure sales, either on the phone or at the door. If the offer has a time limit, hang up or close the door. Legitimate businesses give people time to check for background information and important license and insurance information.
• Research the company. Before making any decision to hire a paving or any other kind of contractor, BBB recommends checking out a company’s Business Review. Look for response to complaints if there are any on file.
• Use the 3-3-3 rule. Get three estimates from paving companies; don’t pay full price upfront or pay with cash. BBB also recommends paying by credit card, which offers more protection. Once cash is gone, it’s gone.
• Get a contract. Reputable businesses will draw up a contract detailing materials, labor, start and completion dates, company name, local address and telephone number, BBB said.
• If you feel threatened, contact the police. You do not need to speak to anyone at your door. Never let anyone you don’t know into your home.
• Remember the three-day cooling-off rule applies to most home-repair contracts, the BBB said.
You can cancel a contract by midnight of the third business day, including Saturdays. Make sure the contract includes details on how to cancel and send all correspondence by certified mail as proof.
BBB encourages anyone who comes across a door-to-door paving scam to report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker and the local police.
Check out businesses or report scams at www.bbb.org/upstate-new-york.
Email Suzanne Moore:
HEAR A SCAM CALL
Donna Douglas recorded the scam message on her cellphone and shared it with the Press-Republican. Check it out with this story at www.pressrepublican.com.