A new scam has been uncovered, targeting the public into divulging personal information to scammers – estafadores in Spanish – making random calls informing whoever answers the phone they have a tax refund coming.

Most of the telephone scams are still carried out from prisons, where inmates contact people by phone using an application that allows them to hide their true number and simulate for that of an official institution, such as a bank or the Treasury

La Nacion, in its report, an extract of a conversation recorded by a potential victim lasting a total of two minutes and 22 seconds before the scammer moved on.

Scammer (S): – Do you have a computer or some type of device that has Internet to send you a notification and that you can view it?

Intended Victim (V): – Yes sir (…) But what would it be for? What is the procedure that you have to notify me?

S: – It is a tax exemption that is being generated to your person; It is a benefit that the Ministry of Finance is providing. As I was saying, you get a tax break on your salary with respect to income tax.

V: – Aha, but why would they modify it if it is by law?

S: – Yes, but in this case what the Ministry of Finance and the Legislative Assembly, made an appeal which was supported. So, the beneficiaries are salaried people. This is due to what is the new tax plan that comes into force with many taxes (…). Do you already know what the income tax is or what is the value added tax, what would the VAT?

V: –But VAT and income tax are very different things (…)

S: –As you have been contributing to the Ministry of Finance (tax department), this benefit is provided to you (…), it is our responsibility to provide a support and exonerate you to the taxes imposed.

V: Yes, but I do not pay income tax because my salary does not exceed the limit.

S: – No, you only pay it in what is the basic (food) basket. Miss, in what is the salary, what is being rebated is the income tax, not the value added tax.

V: – But no, it seems very strange to me.

As we can clearly see, the intent of the unknown caller was to obtain personal information, in this case, starting with an email to send “a notification”.

Since the intended victim didn’t bite, the scammer cut the call and presumably moved on to the next potential victim.

“This is clearly a new way to scam people of their hard-earned money, using the pretext of a refund or reduction in income tax, to defraud taxpayers, through remote access to computers or mobile phones,” said the Treasury.

TheOrganismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) reiterated that most of the telephone scams are still carried out from prisons, where inmates contact people by phone using an application that allows them to simulate telephone numbers assigned to the Treasury.

Then, they ask the victim to install software on their personal computer or cellular phone with which they manage to remotely access the device.

In addition, victims are to fill out forms to allow scammers to continue stealing sensitive financial information.

Authorities say that conversations can be lengthy, even hours, as scammers continue to prod until they obtain account numbers, ‘claves dinamicas’ or tokens used by some financial institutions as a security measure to access bank accounts and transfer money unbeknownst to the victim.

The scammer’s advantage is the trust and ignorance of their victims.

Due to the increase in telephone scams during 2019, telephone companies began disabling the telephone lines used from penal centers, resulting in a reduction of the number of complaints that have been received. For example, according to the OIJ, in May 2019 they received 228 complaints for telephone scams; in June, 183; in July, 234; and, in August, 186.

But, scammers find ways of getting around it.

So as not to fall victim to this type of fraud, be aware of the following:

  • No institution – bank or tax department, for example –  will call you to request personal data, or sensitive data.
  • In case you are called and have doubt, cut the call. Immediately contact your bank.
  • If you are asked to download a program on your computer or app on your cell phone, do not do so. Better yet, turn off your computer or cell phone immediately and run a virus scan.
  • If you are a victim of fraud, file the respective complaint with the OIJ.