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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 1:25 pm | Fair 63º


Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office Reports Increase in Telemarketing Scams Targeting Senior Citizens

There has been an uptick in telemarketing scams targeting senior citizens, including phone calls from scammers who pose as local residents, according to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office.  

In recent extortion attempts, scammers who pose as sheriff’s deputies or Internal Revenue Service agents have begun using real deputy names with local area codes.  

Vicki Johnson, a prosecutor for the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office, recently returned to her post after retirement to handle an increasing number of elder abuse cases.

Her team is using a two-year grant to educate senior citizens about elder abuse, which she says can include physical, emotional, and financial neglect.

Seniors lose approximately $3 billion a year from telemarketing scams, and one of the most common methods involves fake IRS claims, according to Johnson.

In an IRS scam, victims will receive a phone call from a fake IRS agent claiming that their assets will be frozen immediately if they do not address an outstanding payment.

The callers often tell the victim that they are subject to a complaint, which could lead to arrest, and that they can solve the problem by wiring money. 

Johnson said these callers often use threatening, urgent language such as, “We have police officers on their way to your home,” and telling people they have been charged with infractions. 

“So, they’re very frightening phone calls,” Johnson said. “These crooks have been getting more and more aggressive with the phone calls.”

Another scam being reported frequently in Santa Barbara County involves scammers posing as sheriff’s deputies to threaten victims about outstanding warrants for missing jury duty.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department never makes phone calls to confirm warrant status, authorities said, but these scam calls appear to come directly from police officers.

After introducing themselves as police officers, scammers tell victims that they did not attend jury duty and a warrant has been issued for their arrest. Similar to the IRS scam, the victim is then told to transfer funds and correct their mistake.

According to the Sheriff's Office, the caller might also agree to meet the victim at a police station after providing an address. The funds, however, will be demanded immediately.

The Sheriff's Office said everyone who receives these calls should immediately hang up and report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission, and Johnson said it’s best not to engage with phone numbers that you do not recognize.

Johnson said it is difficult to prosecute scammers because they are often located overseas and based in large groups.

In the last few years, however, Johnson said fewer seniors have lost money to these prolific schemes.

“Now, I get a lot of phone calls from seniors who are reporting this as a scam,” she said. “They call me up and say, ‘I just want to tell you I got one of those IRS phone calls. I know it’s a scam but I wanted to let you know.’”

Karen Kozak, a receptionist at the sheriff's headquarters at 4434 Calle Real, is often the first contact for people reporting such scams.

She emphasized that the best way to avoid scams is to ignore unfamiliar contacts, and noted that the SBSO does not investigate suspicious phone numbers. 

“It bothers me to talk to people who have all of a sudden lost their livelihood,” Kozak said. “Too many lives have been ruined over scammers.”

Noozhawk intern Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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