Across The Universe: Scam season hitting high gear at Tahoe-Truckee | SierraSun.com

Across The Universe: Scam season hitting high gear at Tahoe-Truckee

As March nears, it means tax season for many residents will hit high gear. Unfortunately, that also means scam season will do the same.

Whether via shady Craigslist ads, bogus names and handles on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, outlandish email schemes — or even the good-old-fashioned phone call — criminal scams are evolving with each passing day.

In a weird way, it's fascinating how quickly people can seemingly be one step ahead of the newest advancement in technology — and several steps ahead of the status quo.

Just this past week, we published the latest round of North Tahoe crime logs, and within were reports of Craigslist property rental scams, in which two victims were duped out of nearly $4,000.

At Lake Tahoe and Truckee, considering the transient nature of our community, the odds of scams like this occurring by way of online ads for property rentals and rooms for rent are a lot higher, and it's something I urge everyone to approach with caution.

The same goes for myriad other types of scams out there these days. Take tax season, for example — just last week, the IRS issued a mass consumer alert for email and other schemes after seeing an approximate "400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season."

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"The emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies," according to an IRS statement. "The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. Emails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information."

This is only the tip of the iceberg — there are so many different types of scams out there these days. Take, for example, a notice many local residents got in recent days from the Truckee Police Department, warning of bogus phone calls going out about unpaid Truckee Donner Public Utility District bills.

According to the agencies, the scammer will call and claim to be with the TDPUD, aggressively stating that you have a past due account and threatening to disconnect your service if you do not pay them immediately over the phone — by pre-paid debit card, credit card or money transfer.

"DO NOT BE FOOLED!" police warn. "TDPUD never asks for a pre-paid debit card or money transfer, and we don't disconnect for non-payment over the phone or after normal business hours."

Another notice last week came from Liberty Utilities, in response to similar scams to local customers who report that these wannabe criminals are aggressively threatening to shut off their power if payment isn't made within a specified period of time.

Making matters worse, a lot of times callers and emailers are able to obtain specific customer information, such as last payment amount, physical address or account details. Considering that, I can see how for some people — perhaps those not familiar with technology, or others who are intimidated easily — can fall victim.

The simplest piece of advice to follow, however, is to repeat that ages-old adage: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Although in these cases, replace "good" with "ridiculous."

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He may be reached for comment at kmacmillan@sierrasun.com.