FREMONT -- Police are warning Fremont residents, particularly members of the South Asian Indian community, to be wary of scammers claiming to seek money for the IRS.
At least three Fremont residents fell victim to the telephone scam between Saturday and Thursday, and several other instances have been reported, police said.
Authorities also say the profile of the victims suggests that members of the South Asian Indian community may be the scammers' primary targets.
The scammers, who consistently call from a 202 area code and claim to be IRS representatives, tell their victims they owe $9,000 to the IRS and that their visa or passport will be revoked if they don't pay up, police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques said. The caller then instructs the victims to get a "Greencard" money order, which can be obtained at stores like Walmart and allows individuals to deposit money on a special card, then asks for the code number on the back of the card to access the preloaded funds.
At least three victims have sent money to the scammers, Bosques said, and at least two of them sent the full $9,000 in $500 increments, the maximum allowed on the card. In at least one case, the scammers called a victim pretending to be with the Sheriff's Office, and told them they would be arrested if they did not hand over the funds.
"They're very sophisticated," said Bosques, noting that the scammers in one case utilized technology to disguise their phone number as that of a government entity. "In the case where the suspect pretended to be with the Sheriff's Office, the victim called back the number and it went to the Fremont courthouse."
Bosques added that the callers are using scare tactics that show they are familiar with the South Asian Indian community.
"The whole message about this is that these scams continue to get more and more sophisticated," said Bosques, who cited the growing number of scams, from a recent PG&E hoax to the "snake scam," where a woman posed as a city employee searching for poisonous snakes in order to enter and burglarize victims' homes. "And when something doesn't work, they'll try something else. The IRS scam is what's going on right now."
Police say the scammers' demands fit a similar profile to a scheme reported in mid June, when callers claiming to be with PG&E scammed the Country Way Restaurant out of $500 dollars after telling them to get a "Money Pak" to pay to keep their power on. And when that scam stopped working, Bosques said, the IRS claim became the scam du jour.
Authorities say they are not aware of any company or agency that demands payment via this type of money order, nor do they have the practice of dispatching officers to arrest people who have an outstanding financial debt with the IRS. Residents are advised to contact the department if they receive this type of call, and are reminded to never send money to companies or persons without verifying its accuracy.
In many cases, an Internet search of the phone number will yield clues as to its accuracy, Bosques said, acknowledging the exception of the number routing back to the Fremont courthouse.
"In most of the reported cases, if you Google the number, it does come back as being a scam number reported by previous victims," said Bosques, who notes it is also a good idea to call a verified company phone number found on an official bill, statement, or website to verify any outstanding debt. "Many of these calls are placed over VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) services and are difficult to trace after a crime has occurred."
Anyone with information about the IRS hoax, or any other suspected scam, may contact Fremont police at 510-790-6900.