A Modern-Day Beethoven and Government Impersonation Scams
Ludwig von Beethoven, a composer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, almost single-handed change the face of classical music by transitioning it from the Classical to Romantic era. In his later years, Beethoven tragically lost his hearing. Yet, some of his greatest music, including his Ninth Symphony, was written after he went deaf.
Beginning in the late 20th century, the musical world was captivated by Mamoru Samuragochi, a deaf man who, like Beethoven, composed classical music. Audiences from Japan to New York celebrated his soulful music and flamboyant style. His music was so spectacular that he was celebrated as “Japan’s Beethoven.”
Samuragochi assumed center stage in Japan. He dedicated a composition to a young violinist with a prosthetic arm and comforted victims after the nuclear meltdown triggered by a tsunami in 2011. A Japanese skater planned to use his composition during her competition at the Olympics.
But, all was not as it seemed. In 2014, Samuragochi’s story unraveled. As it turns out, he was neither deaf nor a musician. He did not even know how to write music notation necessary for music composition. The music that had been attributed to Samuragochi actually was written by an unassuming music professor at a Tokyo college.
Samuragochi’`s unmasking devastated a nation. Samuragochi had become an icon of Japanese culture and a source of national pride. An entire nation felt like it had been deceived by his fraud.
Unlike most scammers who remain in the shadows hoping not to be revealed, Samuragochi sought out fame and renown from his fraud. Like Samuragochi, most scammers play on their victims’ emotions. However, rather than seeking to engender emotions of warmth and adoration like Samuragochi, they play on their victims’ fears and vulnerabilities.
Many times, the scammers trigger fear in their victims by impersonating government officials and threatening adverse government action if money is not paid. This article discusses scams where fraudsters have impersonated government officials and how to prevent becoming a victim of those scams.
Chinese Consulate Impersonation
In 2018, news articles have warned of a new robocall scam, which has cost victims millions of dollars. This scam is all the more heinous is that it has targeted Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans, with the fraudsters speaking in Chinese, spoofing consulate telephone numbers, and claiming to be Chinese consulate personnel.
By using Chinese-language robocalls, social media, and impersonating Chinese consulate personnel, fraudsters have warned of legal trouble or even criminal action in China or visa problems in the United States if victims do not respond. And the response required eventually always leads to paying the scammers money.
I, personally, have received many robocalls which sound like they may be in Chinese (since I do not speak the language, I cannot be certain). I thought they were wrong numbers and hung up. I would like to think that even if I spoke Chinese, I would have recognized the calls as scams. Yet, with a spoofed consulate phone number and threats of legal problems which could result in deportation, it easy to understand why victims were tricked.
Internal Revenue Service Impersonation
No taxpayer wants to run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Knowing this, fraudsters may impersonate IRS employees.
Getting good news from the IRS is so unusual that you are delighted when you receive an email from the IRS telling you an error has been made and that you are entitled to a tax refund. You have the option of receiving the refund via direct deposit into your bank account. Otherwise, it will take quite some time for a check to be issued to you.
While you imagine how you will spend this unexpected windfall, you quickly go to the IRS website, using the link on the email. You enter your name, birthdate, social security number, and bank account information as requested. You check your bank account daily, hoping to see the refund deposited. Instead, you find withdrawals and checks that you did not authorize, and your bank balance is nearly zero.
The caller ID says you are receiving a call from the Internal Revenue Service. You answer the phone, and hear your worst nightmare. A revenue officer tells you that you owe a significant amount in taxes and penalties, with interest mounting daily.
You say there must be a mistake. The revenue officer asks for your name, date of birth, and social security number to verify the account. That puts you on high alert, so you type the phone number on the caller ID into Google. Sure enough, it is the number for an IRS office in another state. You provide the requested information, certain it will clear up this nightmare.
After a minute, the revenue officer says there is no mistake; the tax debt is yours. If you do not pay the past due amount immediately, the matter will be sent to collection, which will increase the cost. You also will be at risk for arrest. If you are not a US citizen, you could be deported. Since the IRS does not accept credit cards, you must make your payment either via a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer.
With the revenue officer on the phone, you sign into your bank account, type in the wire transfer information and send the payment. You hang up and give a sigh of relief, thankful that the tax situation was not more of a hassle.
When you do not receive the promised verification of payment, you call the IRS only to learn that you had no past due taxes. The scammer is long gone with your money.
Court Officer Impersonation
Imagine your life is already in a delicate balance. Between home and work responsibilities, soccer games, ballet classes, and piano lessons and interstate travel to conventions, you wake up many mornings as tied as you were when you went to bed.
Then, you get a phone call, at dinner time no less. You receive a call from the court telling you that you have been called for jury duty. This will mean more time away from work and family and additional things to coordinate.
The caller says she needs some personal information to verify your eligibility and for the pre-selection process. She is happy to save you time by taking that information over the phone. With new scheduling concerns running through your head, trying to figure out how you can handle jury duty, you give the court officer the information she needs and hang up, crossing your fingers that the jury duty summons will not come soon.
That is the best case scenario. The call could have been from the US Marshal’s office informing you that you have been found in contempt of court by not appearing for scheduled jury duty. You protest that you never received a jury duty notice. The officer says he is sorry for your predicament, but the warrant for your arrest has already been issued–you can explain it to the judge in court.
Panicked, you ask if anything can be done to prevent your arrest. Reluctantly, the officer tells you that given that you didn’t receive the notice, if you just pay a fine, he can ignore the warrant. Relieved that you can avoid the embarrassment and hassle of an arrest by paying a fine of a few hundred dollars, you eagerly give the officer your credit card information.
A fraudster impersonating a court officer has played on your fears and vulnerabilities to obtain your personal information or credit card information.
Social Security Administration Impersonation
Recently, I received an email asking me to verify my social security information. It referred me to a link which appeared to be the Social Security Administration (SSA) website.
I then went to what I knew was the real SSA website, and there was a place to sign up for an account. I could have signed up for an account and caused the email to be generated. I don’t recall doing so, but if it were more than a year ago, maybe I would not remember.
The email I received may have been legitimate, but I also know there are many SSA impersonators out there. Therefore, I was afraid to act on the email I received.
This is another harm that the government impersonators cause beyond stealing money through fear and intimidation. By creating distrust in legitimate communications from the government, impersonators slow down government operations and can increase government costs.
I would not have been comfortable accessing information through that SSA link without verifying it was legitimate. That would require that I call the SSA and take an employee’s time to verify the email. Other increased costs may come from the government choosing to send notifications via US Mail because citizens and residents distrust email and telephone communications.
How to Avoid Being Scammed
Because of government impersonators, we live in a society of distrust and caution. The following reminders are helpful in preventing financial losses or identity theft due to scams:
Do not give personal information or bank or credit card information to anyone who calls or emails you. Government officials will almost never ask for this information over the phone or request it via email.
Remember that the government usually does not call or email people–unless they have signed up for a mailing list. Government offices rarely will have your telephone number or email address unless you provided it by signing up for notifications, like I may have with the SSA.
Trust yourself. If you do not remember receiving a jury summons or notice of a lawsuit or that you have past due taxes, do not let an unknown caller convince you otherwise. If you are uncertain, look up the number for the real government office and call to confirm the claims.
Do not trust caller ID or email addresses. Scammers are smart users of technology. They can spoof telephone numbers on caller ID and emails.
Do not click on links in emails. Instead, go to the website and access the information there.
he IRS does not arrest or deport people for nonpayment of taxes. The few people who face criminal charges for tax issues usually have received numerous notifications and will have a right to a hearing before they can be convicted or deported.
Do not “redial last caller” or reply to a questionable email to verify information to verify a caller’s identity–even if the phone number and email address appear to match those of the government office. If you are concerned about a communication, go to the official government website and call the number you see there to verify the situation.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unexpected large tax refunds, sweepstakes winnings, and other windfalls are rare, and it is rarer still that you would be informed of them in an email or phone call.
© 2018 by Elizabeth A. Whitman
Any references clients and their legal situations have been modified to protect client confidentiality.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice to any person. No one should take any action regarding the information contained in this blog without first seeking the advice of an attorney. Neither reading this blog nor communication with Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC or Elizabeth A. Whitman creates an attorney-client relationship. No attorney-client relationship will exist with Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC or any attorney affiliated with it unless and until a written contract is signed by all parties and any conditions in such contract are fully satisfied.