AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As the holidays and winter weather approach the High Plains, and circumstances around Social Security and student loans have been actively shifting, a range of often-seen scamming topics and strategies may become more prevalent in the coming weeks. Officials from the Amarillo Police Department, the federal government, and other institutions have offered reminders and extra information that could be used to avoid common scams.

Social Security

As announced by the Social Security Administration on Thursday, recipients will soon see an annual cost-of-living adjustment of nearly 9% starting next year. With the large increase for beneficiaries, coupled with varied dates for when the change will be in effect and a decrease in Medicare premiums, some may be seeking more information or specific instructions from the administration to adjust.

While the Social Security Administration may call or text about programs and services, officials noted that the administration will never ask for a return call to an unknown number or ask for personal information. The administration will never threaten to suspend a person’s Social Security number, promise an increase in benefits in exchange for money, or ask people to send gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, wire transfers, Internet currency, cryptocurrency, or cash through the mail.

The administration advised that people should be cautious of scams and look for warning signs, including:

  • A caller or sender claiming there is a problem with a Social Security number or account
  • Any call, text, or email requesting a fine be paid with gift cards, wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, internet currency, or by mailing cash
  • Callers threatening a person with arrest or other legal action
  • Links and attachments that can be used in “phishing” schemes

The administration asked that those who receive questionable calls hang up and report them. Further, it advised that people who receive unknown calls, emails, or texts should not return them.

The IRS

The IRS’ website reminded individuals that the service does not contact taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information. Instead, the IRS initiates most contact through regular mail delivered by the postal service.

However, the IRS noted that there are a few circumstances in which the IRS will call a person or come to a home or business. This can happen if:

  • A person has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent tax return, or has not made an employment tax deposit
  • An IRS employee is viewing assets or touring a business as part of a collections investigation, an audit, or a criminal investigation

Even then, the IRS reminded that people will most often receive letters from the IRS before that happens. The Amarillo Police Department will also not call to enforce any outstanding IRS taxes, as the department reminded.

People who feel like they might owe taxes can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040, and attempted scams can be reported to the FBI on its resource page.

Federal Student Loans

As previously reported on MyHighPlains.com and announced by the White House, the application for federal student loan forgiveness is expected to open sometime in October. The application is expected to ask applicants to include their name, Social Security Number, date of birth, phone number, and email.

However, the White House has continued to remind people to be aware of possible student loan forgiveness scams. The application will be on a “.gov” website, and the administration also noted that reliable ways to avoid possible scams include:

The Amarillo Police Department and other law enforcement

According to the Amarillo Police Department, no law enforcement agency will contact a person and demand payment over the phone for a warrant or to bond someone out of jail. Further, no law enforcement agencies in Amarillo, Potter County, or Randall County will contact a person, nor recommend a bond company or have a bond company call someone. Further, a person will not be contacted by those agencies and told to pay a fine for not appearing for jury duty.

Anyone wondering if they have a warrant, said the police department, should call Potter or Randall Counties or check for local municipal warrants.

Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy advised that some scammers have threatened to turn off a person’s electricity or natural gas service if they are not immediately paid. However, the company advised that:

  • Xcel Energy provides many options for payment, and people should be suspicious if a caller is requiring the use of a pre-paid debit card
  • If a person’s account is in danger of disconnection, a notice will be sent through the mail
  • People should never wire money or provide debit or credit card numbers to unverified sources

Scams can be reported to the Xcel Energy Business Solutions Center by calling 800-481-4700, and further tips to avoid scams can be found on the company’s website.

Microsoft

The Amarillo Police Department reported that some cases have happened in which a victim was contacted by a scammer claiming to be with Microsoft. Those scammers may try to trick people into installing malicious software or request a person’s credit card information. Reminders from the police about Microsoft included that:

  • Microsoft will never include a phone number in error and warning messages
  • Microsoft will never contact a person to provide unsolicited PC or technical support
  • All communication between Microsoft and a person is initiated by the person

Amazon

Similarly to Microsoft, the police said that Amazon scams have been reported on increasing levels. People should be cautious about someone reaching out about possible fraudulent charges. Further, the police advised that Amazon will not reach out to a person and ask for their credit card, bank account information, or social security number.

Craigslist

As mentioned by the police department, a common Craigslist scam can include a  buyer contacting a person with an interest in purchasing an item for sale. The scammer then sends a check, money order, or cashier’s check for more than the agreed price and asks for the seller to cash the check and return the difference.

Police advised that people deal locally with anyone when purchasing or selling online.

“The Grandparent Scam”

Another often-seen scam, according to the police department, is referred to as, “The Grandparent Scam.” Typically, a call begins with a scammer saying “Grandma?” or “Grandpa?” to prompt a person to say a grandchild’s name in response. The scammer then agrees that they are the grandchild, and explains some kind of dire situation with which they need help. After asking the called person not to tell anyone else and sometimes putting an accomplice on the phone to pose as a police officer, the called person is asked to go to a certain place and buy gift cards or wire money to pay for whatever type of help is needed.

Police warned that these scams often seem very urgent and make the victim feel flustered, in order to get them to offer money before checking into the situation. The Federal Communications Commission said that the best way to avoid this type of scam is to hang up, and otherwise not pick up for unrecognized incoming numbers. For those who do end up in a conversation with possible scammers, the FCC suggested that a person not send money quickly but instead report a suspicious call.

More tips on avoiding “Grandparent Scams” and filing complaints with the FCC can be found on its website.

Next steps

Altogether, the Amarillo Police Department advised that there is no reason to contact a law enforcement agency if a person has not had a monetary loss due to a scam. However, scams can be reported to the Better Business Bureau’s website.

The police also said that those who have been the victim of a scam can call the police department or go to the webpage in order to report it. The police also suggest that people keep scam awareness information on hand, and share it with others.