Telephone-based scams on the rise in Merced County

A new wave of telephone-based scams targeting Merced County residents prompted the Sheriff’s Department this week to renew warnings to residents to protect themselves.

Various scams reported in Merced County in recent weeks include callers claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service; Pacific, Gas and Electric Co.; the FBI; or banks and credit card companies, Deputy Delray Shelton said.

“They all have the same basic theme: The caller demands the victim give out personal, sensitive financial information and make payment on a supposed debt,” Shelton said.

One of the newer scams reported in recent weeks in Merced County apparently involves a caller claiming to be Sheriff Tom Cavallero. “The idea would have been for the victim to give the caller money in order to supposedly stay out of jail,” Shelton explained, “which, of course, is not how the system works.”

Cavallero said he was aware that someone had used his name in an apparent shakedown effort.

“That specific one seems to be more of an anomaly. I spoke with one man who said it had happened to him,” Cavallero said. “But obviously phone scams are nothing new. They’ve probably been around as long as there has been phones.”

In recent weeks and months, law enforcement officials reported a “significant spike” in the IRS-related scam.

“You never want to give out any personal information to anyone who calls you,” Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said. “Just hang up, find a legitimate number for the company or agency on your own, and call them with that number. Don’t use any numbers the caller gives you.”