The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office has recently seen a rising number of financial scams targeting local residents.  These scams often begin with a phone call, but can also be facilitated using email communications and mailings.  The majority of these scams target local residents with either false claims of people owing money to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and threatening arrest if the owed taxes are not paid immediately or claims that residents have won multi-million dollar lottery prizes and persuading the individual to send money for taxes owed so they may collect their lottery winnings. These types of scams result in individuals wiring money, which often winds up overseas, to the scammers and with people giving the scammers their personal identifying information. Scammers are also hacking into email accounts to trick victims, from average citizens, to financial institutions, to attorneys, into wiring them money, which again, often ends up overseas.

These scams are all a variation on the more traditional types of “419 scams”, named after the section for fraud in the Nigerian Criminal Code, where many of these scams originate.  Earlier this year, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) revealed that there have been more than a million reports of phone scammer calls alone since October 2013, and that victims have collectively paid out over $31 million as a result of financial scams.  New Jersey ranks fifth in the United States in the amount of money paid out to con-artists to-date.

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF FROM BECOMING A VICTIM?

Some tips to protect you from falling victim to an IRS scam:

  • The IRS does not call to demand immediate payment over the phone
  • The IRS does not call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill
  • The IRS will not threaten to immediately bring in the police to have you arrested for not paying
  • The IRS will not demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to be heard
  • The IRS will not require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes
  • The IRS will not ask you for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone
  • The IRS will not contact you via unsolicited email, text message, or other through social media

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, you should:

  1. If you know that you owe taxes or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800- 829-1040, where a legitimate IRS representative can assist you.
  2. If you know that you do not owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.

To protect yourself from falling victim to a lottery scam, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.   Also, you cannot win a lottery that you never entered to begin with.

To protect your business against frauds perpetrated via email hacking:

  • Safeguard your network. A simple visit by one of your employees to the wrong website or the opening of an email with an attachment or URL link can compromise an entire network.   Work computers should be for work only; and the use of an individual’s personal electronic device should be done on a “guest network”. The office’s network should be for business purposes only.
  • Verify the accuracy of emails requesting the release of money. Do not assume that emails that purport to be from a client are in fact from a client, especially if that email requests that you wire or otherwise release money. Scammers are hacking into email accounts and posing as clients. Prior to releasing any funds, confirm that the request is in fact authentic.

WHAT IF YOU HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED?

If you discover that you have fallen victim to one of these types of scams or other financial fraud, you should contact the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Financial Crimes and Public Corruption Unit, immediately as time is of the essence in attempting to track and recover the stolen funds before they are sent overseas.