Telephone scams are frustrating. As sheriff, they are doubly frustrating because law enforcement is very limited when it comes to identifying, apprehending and prosecuting the offenders.

Getting a phone call from “the IRS” to tell me they are going to have me arrested if I don’t pay a certain amount of money has become almost a daily occurrence at my house. I have also received calls telling me I was supposed to report for jury duty and now have to pay a fine. Another scam is when the caller claims I have won millions of dollars but must pay the taxes on it before the money can be transferred into my account. None of these things are true. In each case, the scammers are trying to get money and/or access to my personal information.

Please keep a couple of things in mind: The IRS will never, ever call you to demand money. Neither will the Sheriff’s Office if you happened to miss jury duty. These things are handled via U.S. mail or with a personal visit. Also, if you did not buy a lottery ticket or participate in a sweepstakes, you did not win a bunch of money. Even if you did participate, you would never have to pay taxes on your winnings before collecting. Normally, taxes would either be taken out of the amount being paid to you, or you would have to pay in conjunction with your next income tax return.

One of the scammer’s most dangerous weapons is conversation. They want you to call them so they can engage in conversation, during which they will try to get you to reveal some personal information that they can use to steal your identity. Once they have enough information, they can obtain credit cards in your name and rack up significant debt. You could be held responsible to pay some or all of that debt. To protect yourself, never give your personal information over the telephone.

The Internet is also a dangerous place. Many people are targeted for scams over social media. You can limit your vulnerability by adjusting your privacy and security settings. Also, just as with a telephone, never give out your personal information. You can also be targeted via email. Never click on a link received in an email unless it is from a person you trust. If the link is supposedly to a corporate website, Google the company and go to their site from the search response rather than from the emailed link.

Many scammers will set up a fake website that looks exactly like a legitimate company’s website. Then, they will send you a link to it rather than to the actual company’s site. This is often used to try to get you to log into an account because after you try (on the bogus site they have created), they have your log-in credentials and can now access your account.

Similar to a scam, some burglars have been using a ruse to help identify targets. They call around asking if individuals are at home to receive a package that is scheduled for delivery. If you get one of these calls, do not disclose if you are home or not. If the potential burglar discovers that you are not home, your home could become a target. Remember that if a legitimate package is delivered and requires someone to sign for it but you are not at home, the delivery service will leave a notice on the door with instruction for you to claim your package.

The scams I have described are just a few we investigate. As criminals become more sophisticated, we all must try harder to avoid their schemes. If you ever feel that you have been, or are being scammed, please contact my office at (229) 431-3259.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office since 1982.

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