Fabiola Santiago

When scammers call, just hang up

Earlier this week, about half an hour after I made a business call to Washington, I got a call back from another number, same 202 area code.

I quickly picked up, thinking this might be the return call I was expecting.

The man on the other end had a foreign accent, quite normal in my world, so that wasn’t a big deal. But then he said he was from the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Say that again?” I asked to make sure I heard correctly.

He repeated his title, including a reference to the Internal Revenue Service — this time with heightened authority in the tone of his voice.

“Yeah, and I’m Mother Teresa,” I said, pressing the end-call button.

A Google search of the number quickly confirmed what I instinctively knew: The caller was a scammer.

I wouldn’t be writing about this — I get scammer calls all the time both on my land line and my cellphone, most of them so crass they’re easily recognized as such — if it were not that the real Internal Revenue Service reports that 1,100 people have lost an estimated $5 million because they believed my creepy caller.

And despite the August warning and the bulletin the IRS put out there, the con artists continue to call.

The agency has received about 90,000 complaints about this particular scam from 202-609-7070 – yet unfortunately, people are still falling for the ruse that they owe money and must pay right away. Or they succumb to the flip con that they have an IRS refund coming to them.

Scammers are not only calling more often — but they’re getting bolder.

A Coral Gables doctor this week was told by a caller that his daughter had been kidnapped — and that she would be hurt if he didn’t hand over $50,000.

For special effects, the caller had a woman screaming in the background.

Pretty scary stuff when people mention a loved one and enough information about you to be convincing — except the doctor suspected fraud.

He kept the con artist on the phone long enough to text his daughter and confirm that she was fine.

The day before my “IRS” scammer called, I also received two calls from a number in California. The man also knew one of my daughters’ names. I didn’t give him a chance to make his pitch.

I hung up right away on the first call; never answered the second. When I Googled the number, I found numerous reports about attempts to scam people from that number.

Remarkably so, that same day, a worried relative came to me alarmed by a call from a charming and persuasive man who wanted to offer her a business opportunity.

She suspected he was a scammer, but what was upsetting was that the man used personal information to get her attention. He also gave her a reference, a name and number that seemed real, to check him out.

But that’s another classic scam, easily concocted because so much of our information is out there for public viewing, whether we put it there ourselves or whether it is part of a public record.

Scammers continue to prey on people because they know that somewhere out there, someone is going to fall for their well-orchestrated pitch.

The first line of defense is not to pick up the call.

The second is to hang up right away.

Maybe the third is to dish back guilt — and conjure the embodiment of good, Mother Teresa.