Column: New Year resolution: Don’t get scammed

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | New year dawning for telephone scams.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | New year dawning for telephone scams.

I’m Ishmael again, here with more cautionary tales and warnings, although still no whales sighted, white or otherwise.

Instead, I bring you government alarms sent out by the attorney general of the State of New York, trying to protect us all against certain scams. These warnings are especially addressed to the elderly, a word I hate, by the way.

The “other grandmother” in our family claims she would rather be referred to as “an old coot” than “an elderly woman” and I totally agree. But we can settle on “older Americans” and there are a lot of us here on this Island. So head’s up and pay attention!

The first and most important scam involves a supposed communication from the Internal Revenue Service, either by email or by telephone; the message may tell you that you have an unexpected refund coming or that you owe a modest sum and must pay immediately to prevent various punishments.

It will then simplify responding — all you have to do is provide some bank information. Stop right there! Now hear this. The rules of journalism frown upon italics, sentences in all caps as well as type in red. But if it did not, the following sentence would use all three. Here it is — the IRS never, as in never, communicates by phone or email. Again, never. The IRS uses the U.S. mail only.

My daughter recently bought a home in Florida for winter vacations; the phone had been installed for less than two weeks when they arrived for their first weekend there. There were three, count them, three separate messages from the IRS demanding money. So, Islanders, if you’re part time Floridians as well, be on guard.

I personally have to pause here for a brief moment to raise a question of, for lack of a better term, moral or ethical responsibility. Had you answered that call you would be in the presence of someone engaged in criminal activity, attempting in real time to commit a felony. You can, of course, simply depress the “off” button. But are you obligated to do more? I believe we are.

Understanding full well that our chances of affecting that behavior are slim if not nonexistent doesn’t excuse us from trying. How you proceed is probably a matter of individual character. I usually ask, “Does your mother know what you do for a living? What does your wife think?”

Sometimes I just say, “Shame, shame, shame!” Then, there’s always profanity. In the old days you could slam the phone down, making ear drums ring. When did we lose slamming the phone down? I don’t remember, but I miss it. So act. Try. Maybe it won’t change anything, but you never know.

Then there’s the Grandparent Scam. The mark receives an urgent phone call and a young voice says, “It’s me.” The grandparent then supplies the name and the call goes on. Some emergency has happened and money is needed fast. “Just wire it right away and please don’t tell.” It might be weeks before the scammed discovers the truth.

The Jury Duty Scam: The caller will claim to be an officer of the court and tell you an arrest warrant has been issued for failure to report for jury duty.

He will go on to claim that unless the fine is paid immediately the police will be on their way to your house to make an arrest. All you have to do is supply your bank information,

The Utility Scam: The caller claims to be a representative of a local utility provider. He may have your correct account number. He then claims payment has not been received and service will be terminated unless you pay immediately.

So, happy holidays. Keep your wits about you. If you get a peculiar email from your bank, don’t try to deal with it. Print it and bring it to the branch.

When my computer was hacked last year my daughter told me the following: “Mom, when you’re on line, you have to think of yourself as back in the American West, probably in the 1800s.”

My reply was, “What are you telling me? My stage coach will be held up and the cavalry isn’t coming? They’re busy with the Indians?”

Her answer? “Exactly.”

I repeat, keep your wits about you.

Ishmael signing off. Happy New Year, everyone.