Public Safety

Spike in phone scams reported this week in Cedar Rapids, Marion

(iStock)
(iStock)

Local law enforcement agencies say they have received a number of calls this week reporting scam phone calls claiming to be the Internal Revenue Service or Medicare.

Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesperson, said the police department received between 15 and 20 calls reporting the scams on Thursday.

A majority of the callers, he said, reported the scammer claimed to be from the IRS.

“These (scammers) tell the victim they owe the IRS money and say they’re going to send local law enforcement to arrest them if they don’t pay the owed amount,” Buelow said. “They play on people’s fear and target vulnerability so that the person feels just enough panic to do as they ask.”

Buelow said a similar scam involving Medicare cards is also going around.

“With that one, the caller claims to be from Medicare and says they want to verify the victim’s new cards were received,” he said. “In order to do that, the (scammer) claims to need personal information — full name, date of birth, social security number.”

Medicare, like the Internal Revenue Service, does not make phone calls to individuals, Buelow said.

The key thing to keep in mind when dealing with a potential phone scam is to protect personal information.

“If you receive an unsolicited phone call requiring immediate action and demanding personal information, it is almost always a scam,” he said.

Marion Police spokesperson Tom Daubs said his department also received a number of reports this week regarding similar scams.

“Our dispatch center was inundated over the lunch hour (Thursday) with several calls and walk-ins regarding these scams,” he said.

Daubs said it is unusual for Marion police to receive so many reports.

“Typically, we get a few calls a month, so yesterday was pretty unusual,” he said.

Marion also saw a less common type of scam this week, Daubs said, that involved fraudulent fundraising for an area fire department. Daubs said police were notified Wednesday regarding a false fundraising campaign operating under the name of “Marion Area Volunteer Firefighter Drive.”

The scammers, he said, sent letters to potential targets claiming to be part of a national recruitment effort and encouraging people to volunteer with area fire departments. But, he said the letter ends with asking for donations.

Daubs said the Marion Fire Department told police the campaign was a scam and had nothing to do with the fire department.

Whether by phone or by mail, Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said the best policy when dealing with potential scams is to refuse to share any personal information and simply hang up.

“If they know you are not going to give them money, and they know they can’t scam you, they will likely hang up and move on to their next target,” he said.

“It can’t be said enough times — the best thing to do is just hang up,” Buelow said. “Do not give out personal information over the phone without verifying the caller is legitimate. And a lot of the time it’s easy to verify. Look up the number for the IRS or Medicare or whatever agency or business the caller is claiming to be from, and call that entity directly.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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