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Phone scams net thousands of dollars from Merced County residents. Have you been scammed?

How do you know if you are a victim of identity theft?

It isn't always easy to tell if your personal information has been stolen for fraudulent purposes or your accounts have been compromised. Here are some common signs that you might be a victim of identity theft.
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It isn't always easy to tell if your personal information has been stolen for fraudulent purposes or your accounts have been compromised. Here are some common signs that you might be a victim of identity theft.

Authorities are warning residents after two people fell victim to telephone scams in the Los Banos area.

Police said the Los Banos residents reported the calls of people claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service and Pacific Gas and Electric Company on Friday, May 3.

According to police, a 25-year-old Los Banos man told officers that he received a voicemail containing an automated message from a telephone number with a prefix of 415, and believed the call was from the IRS.

Police said the scammers left instructions for the man to call the number back or face arrest by the local authorities. When the man called the number, a woman told the victim that his name was used to rent a car in El Paso, Texas and the rental company had been given two separate addresses for victim’s name.

The woman then told the victim the rental car was located by authorities at the US-Mexico border containing $200,000 in cash and trace amounts of cocaine, according to Los Banos Police Cmdr. Jason Hedden.

The victim was then told that in order to avoid arrest, he needed to speak with a male who claimed to be an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, who gave the victim a fake DEA agent identification number. The scammer was then able to convince the victim to provide information such as his date of birth, social security number as well as bank account information including the account balance, Hedden said.

The scammer then told the victim that his accounts would be frozen, and instructed him to purchase $1,400 in Google Play cards from two local businesses. The scammer then instructed the victim to provide the numbers located beneath the scratch-off section on the back of the cards as a form of payment, according to police.

Police said the scammer ended the call by telling the victim that someone had used the victim’s identity, and the scammer provided the victim with the correct phone number of the Los Banos Police Department.

The victim was told that an officer would arrive at his home shortly to issue a new social security number and bank account number, according to Hedden.

According to authorities, another Los Banos resident fell victim to a telephone scam later that same day.

Police said the second victim, a 35-year-old man who is believed to be an owner of an automotive repair business, received a call from a scammer claiming to be with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

According to Hedden, the victim was told that the business was behind on the payment of a utility bill, and that service would be shut off within 45 minutes if payment was not received. Hedden said the victim, who did not have access to the business’s financial records at the time of the call, was told he would not be able to pay the bill with a credit card.

The scammer then instructed the man to purchase two MoneyPak cards totaling over $1,400 and to provide the numbers on the back of the cards as a form of payment, according to police. After paying the scammers, the man discovered he was not behind on utility payments and was directed to call the police to report the incident after speaking with the utility company.

“These scams are happening all the time,” said Hedden.

According to the Los Banos Police department, personal information including name, date of birth, bank information, or social security number should never be given over the phone.

Hedden said that if the IRS wants to get in touch with people, they will do so by mail.

“The IRS is never going to make demands for you to pay them over the phone with gift cards,” he said.

Police also said the IRS will never demand payment of taxes without an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

Phone scams can be reported to the IRS by contacting the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484, or by using the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page.

Anyone who believes they have been the victim of a scam can contact the Los Banos Police Department for information at 209-827-7070.

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