Fox 13 reporter targeted in phone scam gets expert advice on avoiding fraud

SALT LAKE CITY - Thousands of Utahns are getting worrisome phone calls from scammers. The problem is, many people don't know it’s a scam and end up sending money to the crooks.

The IRS says over the last three years, Utahns have been tricked out of more than $400,000. Now the Utah Department of Commerce is saying Utahns should be extra careful.

Scams. They come in many forms and to many people, even reporters. Fox 13 News' Aubrey McKay recently got a call that the Department of Commerce says is a “classic scam call".

"This message is intended for Aubrey Mckay. Aubrey, this is officer Jake Holfman calling you from the U.S. Treasury Department," the scammer said during the call.

That voicemail is a scam, with the caller claiming McKay is being sued and her calls are under investigation.

"So before I allow officers to handcuff you in this case, I need you to contact me on the department call-back number," the scammer continues.

McKay met with Daniel O'Bannon, the director of the Division of Consumer Protection. He said these calls are on the rise, and these scammers are becoming harder and harder to track.

"So they're going to say I’m with somebody really important, immediately make a threat, and then say, 'But you can make this all go away if you just send me money right now,'" O’Bannon said.

McKay heard the call and knew it was a scam, but those kinds of threats can still be scary.

“If you're going to get a call from the IRS or from the Treasury, you're usually going to get a letter," O'Bannon said. "They're not going to ask for bank information or credit card numbers over the phone."

O'Bannon says no legitimate agency will ever ask you to wire money. If someone is calling and claiming to be from an agency or group, he said you should look up the real number of whomever they say they're with and report the call to the actual agency.

“Again, if you are legitimately concerned, then look up the number for the real IRS or the real Treasury Department and what they’ll tell you, it is a scam," O'Bannon said. "But it is a way you can validate it if you are really concerned."

Contrary to what you're supposed to do, McKay called the scammer back.

“Aubrey the reason I’m calling you,” said the scammer, who hadn't been provided with McKay's name but had it already. “[Is to] notify you about a lawsuit that is being filed against you by IRS, Internal Revenue Service. So, first of all, I need you to get a pen and a piece of paper handy with you so I can give you your case number.

He gave McKay a case number and told her she needed to listen very carefully because this was an important phone call, but, the best part?

“So first I need you to talk to me in a confidential place where there is no person next to you. Are you talking to me in a confidential place?” asked the scammer.

McKay said yes, but apparently wasn't very convincing as O'Bannon was also present. The scammer hung up.

"It’s this somebody like you heard who is worried about getting caught and who is trying to take advantage using fear tactics," O'Bannon said.

It's a national problem, but it’s not just national agencies that impostors go after. They will even call and say they're from state and local agencies right here in Utah.

"Rocky Mountain Power, the Utah courts calling about jury duty, absolutely anything from a federal agency to a local agency," O'Bannon said of the roles the scammers will pretend to fill.

From using fear tactics to claiming you've won a prize, the scammers eventually ask for information and money.

Although Fox 13 did call the number back, the Department of Commerce says that's generally not a good idea. They said it’s best just to ignore the call all together. Otherwise, you could end up on a list of people who are likely to respond to those kinds of phone calls, what the Department of Commerce calls “the sucker list”.

"A scam artist’s worst nightmare is an educated consumer," O'Bannon said. "What you've gotta do is just watch out for the red flags, and you've gotta get away from the phone call. Hang up the phone."

Utah consumers should report these phone calls at http://www.tigta.gov or by calling 1-800-366-4484.