I write so often about scams that target the elderly that it’s almost refreshing to write about one targeting young people. Almost, but not quite, since scammers are the dregs of society and whenever one calls me I fantasize about exactly what punishment I would inflict should we ever meet in person. Often, rusty pliers are involved.
That’s unlikely, of course, since the modern scammer hides behind the anonymity of the computer and the telephone. The latter is the mechanism employed in this recent swindle: Fraudsters claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service ring up college students and demand payment for something they call the “Federal Student Tax.” It’s a variation on a common scam that tries to convince victims that they’re in trouble with the government.
“These scams and schemes continue to evolve nationwide, and now they’re trying to trick students,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement issued at the end of May. “Taxpayers should remain vigilant and not fall prey to these aggressive calls demanding immediate payment of a tax supposedly owed.”
It’s a tough time to be a college student, what with a confusing job market and high levels of student debt. When you’re feeling low is exactly when you’re vulnerable to these sorts of scams. I’ve written before about the “government grants” scam, in which a scammer calls and says you’ve been picked to receive thousands of dollars of federal money, no strings attached. Well, one string: First you have to fork over a few hundred dollars.
That scam is still going strong, as evidenced by the emails I receive each week from people nationwide who have found my original 2013 column online. Sadly, many people found the column only after they’d sent as much as $1,000. I can tell from the emails and phone conversations that these are victims least able to afford such losses. Many are immigrants or blue-collar workers.
Be vigilant. The IRS will never demand payment over the phone. It will never ask for credit-card or debit-card information over the phone, or require that you buy a prepaid debit card. It will never threaten to bring in the police or refuse to give you an opportunity to appeal.
The best way to deal with any scammer is to simply hang up. You can also inform the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an agency that goes by the Marvel-comicsesque abbreviation TIGTA. To file a report, go to www.treasury.gov/tigta and click on “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting.” You can also call 800-366-4484.
Oh, and the IRS reports another youth-victimizing scam: IRS imposters who demand payments on iTunes gift cards. What’s next? Demanding payment via Snapchat or Facebook?
Last week, I wrote about a pair of pileated woodpeckers breaking side-view mirrors in a Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. I heard from several readers who’ve experienced similar damage, and not just from woodpeckers. Sharon Williams lives in rural Mineral, Va., where last year her Honda CR-V and her husband’s Ford pickup were set upon by bluebirds.
“Everyday, bluebirds got on the doors and pooped and attacked the mirrors on both sides of the vehicles,” she wrote. “They smeared the poop on the mirrors, and you could see where they had pecked all over. It might have been mating season, and bluebirds are very territorial. They did not break the mirrors, but we sure had to clean up a lot.”
Also, did you know that the pileated woodpecker is the official bird of Reston, Va.? I didn’t, until Carol Nahorniak informed me. In 2014, the Friends of Reston organization nominated five candidates for the honor. The pileated won. Carol wrote: “Its popularity has grown, along with him becoming an official mascot, ‘Walker the Woodpecker,’ making appearances at special events on behalf of Walker Nature Center.”
Just keep Walker away from mirrors.
It sounds like the setup for a joke: Not long ago Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi of Ohev Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue on 16th Street NW, handed his business card to a gentleman from the ultra-orthodox end of the Jewish faith. When the man read Rabbi Herzfeld’s card, he did a double take.
“I saw the expression change, and I thought: ‘Whoa, whoa. What’s going on?’ ” Rabbi Herzfeld said.
It turns out the rabbi had fished from his suit pocket the wrong business card, though one that was, like his, large, glossy and folded in half in the middle. It was the business card of a man Rabbi Herzfeld had met recently: the senior pastor of an African Methodist Episcopal church.
Rabbi Herzfeld quickly produced the proper card. “I said, ‘Let me exchange that.’ ”
I wonder if somewhere an AME pastor is getting a confused look from a potential parishioner.
I’m taking some time off. Look for me back in this space on July 25. Until then, stay cool.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.