Chattooga GOP Meeting This Week
Georgia Gas Prices Decrease Slightly
Georgia gas prices decreased slightly at the pump compared to a week ago. Georgia motorists are now paying an average price of $1.99 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline. Monday’s state average was 1 cent less than a week ago, same as last month, and 60 cents less than this time last year.
It now costs motorists $29.85 to fill a 15-gallon tank of gasoline; that is $11.25 less than what motorists paid in April of 2019, when pump prices hit their peak of $2.74 per gallon.
“Georgia Pump prices are mostly pushing cheaper across the state as gasoline demand wanes over the past few weeks,” said Montrae Waiters, spokeswoman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Until it appears that the threat from COVID-19 decreases, gas prices are likely going to continue shifting.”
Since last Monday, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline holds steady at $2.18. As COVID-19 case numbers surpass 4 million, demand for gasoline is weakening across the country. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) demand reading measures at 8.5 million barrels a day, which is about 11% less than a year ago. The lower demand contributed to a cheaper national average on the week.
- Most expensive Georgia metro markets – Brunswick ($2.13), Hinesville-Fort Steward ($2.10) and Savannah ($2.07).
- Least expensive Georgia metro markets – Catoosa-Dade-Walker ($1.90), Rome ($1.92) and Gainesville ($1.93).
- Area gas price averages – Chattooga ($1.95), Floyd ($1.92), Walker ($1.91), Gordon ($1.92), DeKalb, AL ($1.89), Cherokee, AL ($1.82)
Derelict Vehicle Reported Stolen In Summerville
A Summerville woman reported a stolen vehicle last week. The complainant said that the vehicle was in a vacant lot on Blake Street when it was taken.
Kathy Pierce told a responding officer that she had moved from a house on Blake Street to a new location and had left a 2000 Volkswagen Passant in the empty lot because it wasn’t running. When she came back to retrieve the vehicle, it was gone.
She said that the vehicle was taken sometime between Thursday and Friday of last week.
The incident is under investigation.
Trion Football Player Tests Positive For COVID-19
Trion City Schools has confirmed that one football player has tested positive for COVID-19. According to Athletic Director, Jason Lanham, Trion’s head football Coach Sean Patrick sent out information to other players and students on Monday afternoon. Lanham says, “Very limited chance of exposure to anyone else at this point.”
Recap Of THS Graduation
Trion City Schools is a system filled with rich traditions and unwavering community support; that doesn’t change, even when in the midst of a global pandemic.
On Friday, July 31, after several months of non-stop planning, rescheduling and hoping for the best, Trion City Schools honored their class of 2020 by hosting an in-person graduation ceremony at Sam R. McCain Stadium.
Despite rain in the forecast, Trion faculty and staff saw the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and sent these seniors out with a bang by giving them a ceremony they would never forget.
“We had to cancel school abruptly back in March, leaving us unsure of the fate of our senior class, and wondering whether or not they would get the celebration and recognition they deserve,” explained Bryan Edge, Principal at Trion High School. “We hosted a drive-through community parade for them back in early June and most of the seniors who participated expressed their desire for a true graduation ceremony. We knew then that, if it was at all possible, we were going to do everything we could to host a ceremony.”
While many other school systems opted for virtual or drive-through ceremonies, the staff at TCS knew how important and momentous walking across the stage was for not only for their students, but for their families as well.
“We felt that it was important to host an in-person graduation because this accomplishment is a major life milestone,” said Edge. “It is one of the things that our students and their families really look forward to. It means something to them.”
Dr. Phil Williams, Trion City Schools Superintendent, echoed these sentiments as he was busy drying off chairs for the graduates waiting to take their seats on the field. “We are committed to these students. They have been committed to us for 13 years, so hosting an in-person ceremony was something we felt like we had to do.”
Dr. Phil Williams Superintendent Randy Henderson Board Chair Kari Maddux Vice Chair Members Johnny Brimer Darriel Broome Jeff Maddux
Preparing for and hosting the ceremony was a feat in itself, but making sure students, their families and others attending stayed safe was a huge priority for faculty and staff members working with TCS.
“We tried to be diligent in making sure we released information to families so they could plan their visit ahead. We did not limit attendance but made sure to communicate that all families should arrive together, sit together, and socially distance themselves from other families. We also recommended that everyone wear masks.
“In an effort to try and limit our crowd, we offered a livestream of the entire event for those who are part of a high-risk demographic, or for members of our community who simply wanted to support our graduates. This was a way to watch from home,” said Edge.
Holding the ceremony at Trion’s football field was another way to ensure proper social distancing among graduates and attendees.
“In the late ’70s, graduation for Trion was held on the football field. I graduated in 1985 and we had our ceremony at the old recreation center in town, and typically, we host graduation in the gymnasium on the hill. A lot has changed over the years, but for this group of seniors, we wanted to do something special. A return to old traditions felt like the best fit. And who knows, this may be a new tradition for years to come,” Dr. Williams said.
Families of graduates, community members and past Trion alum packed the stands of Sam R. McCain Stadium on Friday night as graduates met at the high school gymnasium for the historic group photo. Graduates then made their way to the stadium where they lined up, single-file, behind the bleachers as they prepared to take their designated seats, spaced six-feet-apart, on the football field.
The ceremony began with Trion High graduate Shelby Carlock, leading the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a heartfelt welcome from Principal Bryan Edge.
Savannah Price was the first of three speakers to take the stand. Her speech was about past years spent walking the halls of TCS, and how much things have changed.
“It was so bittersweet to me,” smiled Price. “My speech was about the past, so I was given the chance to look back at all of the things we went through together in elementary and middle school. It hit me that I have been with these people for my entire life. It is so weird because this is the last time that I am going to see a lot of them, and most of my memories are with them.”
When asked about how she felt about getting the opportunity to experience a true ceremony, Price smiled. “It almost still feels like May. It doesn’t feel like the end
of summer at all. But being able to have a formal ceremony definitely brought back the ‘normalcy’ of this chapter ending, which I am grateful for.”
Bryana Whitaker then took the stage to talk about the present and all the senior class triumphs realized over the course of the past few months. “It is such an honor to be speaking tonight, especially considering that we didn’t know if we were going to get to have a graduation ceremony,” said Whitaker.
She continued, “After 13 years, it is weird to say goodbye. Even though we had to wait all summer long, unsure of whether or not we were going to get to have a formal graduation ceremony, it still feels as if it is May 23, 2020 again. It still feels as if it was happening after the last day of school, and not that we are getting ready to begin the next part of our lives in the next few weeks.”
Sophie Harward echoed those same sentiments, “When I initially found out that we wouldn’t be going back to school and that I wouldn’t get to finish my senior year, I cried. It was hard to swallow. But I am grateful that we were at least able to celebrate tonight with everyone, one last time.”
Harward’s speech touched on the future and how the most exciting experiences lay ahead for her and her fellow classmates. “I am just very excited that I got the chance to speak to everybody one final time before we all head off to college, because for some of us, that time is a week away.”
Mary Searels, High School Guidance Counselor and System Test Coordinator, then took the stage to announce the graduates, one-by-one, as they walked across to receive their diplomas.
“This is the end, but a new beginning. We wanted to make it special and something our students and families would remember forever,” smiled Dr. Williams, as he formally announced the 2020 Trion High School graduating class.
Loud bangs and bright colors then filled the sky as the crowd was surprised with a firework show to end the night. As a rainbow of colors exploded over Sam R. McCain Stadium, students filed off the field with smiles that would stay with them for the rest of the weekend.
“It has been hard for these seniors. I don’t think there are any words that I can give them to truly provide any condolences for what they lost. I cannot give it all back. What I have tried to convey to them is that, like anything in life, there are going to be hard points— but you have a choice. You can let it be something that totally disrupts you and brings you down, or you can let it be something that you learn from and helps to lift you up. I hope in my conversations with them, they realize that this year has been about understanding the importance of right now, because you never know when your now is going to be cut short,” said Edge.
“I want to say a big thank you to our community for wrapping their arms around our children during this time of uncertainty,” added Dr. Williams. “I absolutely love this community and I love these kids—there is no better community than what we have in Trion, Georgia, and it’s because we do the extra things. Our parents recognize it, they want to be a part of it, they want to help. We are a true family here and we are going to do what is needed to make sure these students will be successful adults.
“No matter what you face in life,” Dr. Williams said in closing, “you can overcome it. All you need to do is make sure you stay focused; make sure you realize every choice you make has consequences. Congratulations, graduates! I know each and every one of you will go out and make a difference in the world, no matter what you do.”
GSP Report On Sunday's Fatal Accident
A Sunday afternoon accident killed a forty-one-year-old Trion man. The accident happened between Little Caesar’s Pizza and Lake Wanda Reita Road. The Georgia State Patrol released the following report on Monday:
On August 2, 2020, at 2:07 p.m., Cpl. Doug Shamblin was dispatched to a traffic crash on U.S. 27 near Lake Wanda Rieta Road. The crash involved a BMW motorcycle and a Pontiac Montana van. The Pontiac’s driver attempted to turn south onto 27 1 from a parking lot. The motorcycle was traveling north on 27 in the right lane. The Pontiac entered the motorcycle’s path and was struck in the left side. The driver of motorcycle suffered fatal injuries. There were no other injuries. The investigation continues.
Killed was Kenneth Stephens, 41, of Trion.
The driver of the Pontiac was Elizabeth Tench, 31, of Menlo.
Another Oakview Employee Tests Positive For COVID-19
Another Oakview Health and Rehabilitation employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
Reno Lambert, director of Oakview, told WZQZ News on Monday afternoon that the employee has not been at the nursing home for the past nine days. Mr. Lambert says that the employee had a family member who had tested positive for coronavirus as well and got tested. Lambert says that the employee is asymptomatic, but will be on quarantine for the next fourteen days.
Mr. Lambert said that Oakview has been fortunate not to have any cases of COVID-19 among residents at Oakview. Lambert said that the facility has been doing all within their power to keep residents safe, and continues to operate with strict protocol.
Lambert said, “We pray every day that no residents are affected by this pandemic. We will continue to practice strict guidelines in the hopes that all of our residents stay healthy.”
Car Stolen In Menlo Recovered In Alabama
A vehicle that was stolen in Menlo over the weekend was recovered in DeKalb County, Alabama, according to a report from the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office.
A Gaylesville, Alabama man was shopping at Lucky’s and had left the keys in his 2002 Chevrolet pickup truck. The truck had a trailer that was loaded with a zero-turn lawnmower and a push-mower. When the man came outside the supermarket, he discovered that his truck had been stolen.
Responding deputies with the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office reviewed video footage from Lucky’s and determined that a white male had gotten out of another vehicle that pulled up at Lucky’s and got in the complainant’s truck and drove away.
According to the sheriff’s office report, the man’s truck was recovered in DeKalb County, Alabama after a pursuit by law enforcement.
Graves Calls For Lewis To Replace Stephens In Statuary Hall
Georgia’s entire Congressional Delegation is calling on Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia Legislature to replace the statue of former Confederate Vice-President Alexander Hamilton Stephens in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol with a stature of former Congressman John Lewis.
Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2) penned an OpEd for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about their bipartisan effort to honor Rep. John Lewis with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Last week, Reps. Graves and Bishop led members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Georgia Delegation in a letter to Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA), Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, and Speaker of the Georgia House David Ralston requesting they replace the state statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens with a statue of Rep. Lewis.
Here is a joint statement from Rep. Graves and Rep. Bishop:
Each year, more than 3 million people from around the world visit the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Millions of us have walked through Statuary Hall and admired the men and women whose statues line the walls. In 1864, Congress first created the tradition that every state provide two statues of citizens “illustrious for historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services” to be displayed in the Capitol. Historical figures and American patriots like Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington have been chosen by their respective home states and are proudly on display.
Nearly a century ago, the state of Georgia selected its two statues, Crawford Long and Alexander Hamilton Stephens. Alexander Hamilton Stephens was the vice president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865 and subsequently served as the governor of Georgia between 1882 and 1883. Following the passing of our friend, civil rights champion and Georgia U.S. Representative John Robert Lewis, we knew his legacy and dedication to making this nation a better place for all Americans needed to be preserved in our nation’s Capitol.
That’s why this week we teamed up to ask Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, House Speaker David Ralston and the Georgia General Assembly to consider enacting a resolution that would replace the Stephens statue with a statue of our beloved colleague, friend, and hero John Lewis. We were joined by eight Members of the Georgia Congressional delegation, Senator David Perdue, Congressman Henry “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA-04), Congressman Austin Scott (GA-08), Congresswoman Lucy McBath (GA-06), Congressman Rob Woodall (GA-07), Congressman David Scott (GA-13), Congressman Rick Allen (GA-12), and Congressman Drew Ferguson (GA-03).
There is no Georgian more worthy of this great honor than John Lewis, who symbolizes for us not only what Georgia once was, but what it can and should be. He inspired millions of people in Georgia, the United States, and around the world with his bravery, his commitment to nonviolent activism, his pursuit of equal justice and voting rights, and his unwavering belief in our democracy.
Two Lanes Of I-75 In Catoosa County Closed Today
Weather permitting, crews will repair a portion of the I-75 northbound bridge just past exit 345 in Catoosa County. The work will close the two right lanes of I-75 north from 9 AM until 6 PM on Tuesday, August 4, 2020
- Advisory: Motorists are advised to expect delays, exercise caution, and reduce their speed while traveling through work zones. Before heading out, get real-time information on work status and traffic conditions. Call 511, visit 511ga.org, or download the Georgia 511 app. Our maintenance team members who repair roads and bridges and our project teams who oversee construction projects are continuing their essential work, while following sanitary work practices prescribed by health agencies to protect themselves and the public from the coronavirus, as are most state DOTs in the U.S.
Arrest Report - Monday - August 3, 2020
Here is the latest arrest report from the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office for Monday, August 3, 2020:
GA DDS Offers Summer Heat Motorcycle Safety Tips
The dangers of heat stroke and heat exhaustion increase as temperatures rise — but state safety experts are warning motorcyclists to keep their gear on anyway.
Motorcyclists’ hot weather survival begins with insulation and hydration, according to Georgia Department of Driver Services Commissioner Sprencer R. Moore.
“Gear up – not down to survive the heat,” Moore said in a Saturday release. “Unfortunately, many motorcyclists assume that wearing less means more comfort and safety from the heat.”
Wearing protective gear is only one precaution cyclists may take when the Georgia sun shines too hot. Others include:
* Consider trips at higher elevations;
* Take breaks frequently in the shade/air conditioning;
* Drink plenty of water but stay away from alcohol;
* Remember to eat;
* Stay insulated with boots, heavy gloves, thick jacket;
* Add a wet neck collar.
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are serious health risks in the summer. Muscle soreness or cramping are early signs of problems with the heat. If you are out and your legs cramp up, take a break and drink a lot of water.
Headaches, dizziness, fainting are also signs you are overheating.
When suffering from heat exhaustion, your core body temperature is close to normal ranges. You may feel the symptoms listed above plus a few others: clammy skin, extra sweating, nausea.
Another Northwest Georgia Event Canceled For 2020
News came last week that the Chattooga County Agricultural Fair has been canceled for 2020. The Town of Lyerly followed that up with an announcement on Friday that Lyerly Down Home Day for 2020 has also been canceled. Also on Friday afternoon, the Chiaha Harvest Fair announced that they will not be holding the fair this year.
The following press statement was released by the Chiaha Harvest Fair on Friday:
“It is with great sadness that we must announce that we will be cancelling the 2020 Chiaha Harvest Fair. In light of concerns over safely serving our artists and patron in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we feel it is the most prudent choice.
Watch for news in the coming days introducing a new Chiaha Harvest Fair Marketplace public Facebook group that will give patrons the opportunity to shop with all of your favorite Chiaha artists, craftsmen and musicians that you have come to love over the years. You will be able to access the wonderful products that you find at the Chiaha Harvest Fair from the comfort of your own home.
Also, watch for news about our exciting move to the Coosa Valley Farigrounds next year! The weather-induced issues we have dealt with over the last few years and the need to continue to grow the festival to what we envision have made it necessary for us to seek out a new location. We are very excited and look forward to celebrating the move with you next year!
Stay safe and well, and join us here as we relive some memories of Chiahas past over the coming weeks!”
Government Impostor Scams: As Reports Decrease, Scammers Look For New Opportunities
Suppose you get an unexpected telephone call from a government agency telling you that a police officer will be there shortly to arrest you. Most people would be shocked and afraid. The caller seems legitimate, providing badge numbers and perhaps even personal information about you. The caller ID displays the name of a real government agency. Here’s the catch: the caller claims jail time can be avoided if you pay a fine by immediately going to a store, purchasing gift cards, and reporting the code numbers to them.
44% of Americans have encountered a government impostor scam.
Over the last several years, the public has been under assault by scammers impersonating a multitude of government agencies. Research by Better Business Bureau (BBB) found the Social Security Administration, Service Canada, the Internal Revenue Service and the Canada Revenue Agency are among the most widely impersonated agencies.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and United States Treasury Department’s names have been used by scammers to manipulate and steal from unwitting consumers.
In other scenarios, scammers threaten arrest for missing jury duty, impersonate immigration officials and threaten to deport people, or offer free money in the form of government grants.
A recent AARP survey found that 44% of Americans over the age of 18 had been exposed to these types of scams. Also, 77% of those surveyed were at least somewhat familiar with government impostor scams. BBB estimates victims have collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Most of these calls appear to originate in India, and law enforcement in the U.S. and Canada have aggressively prosecuted people here that launder the money from victims. Although law enforcement in India has made efforts to close down some of the originating call centers, actual prosecutions or extraditions have been rare.
In a Justice Department Journal of Federal Law and Practice article about efforts to fight telemarketing fraud coming from India, the department official who authored the piece said: “Little evidence exists to suggest that the Indian government will successfully prosecute and impose significant sentences on the perpetrators of these call center scams operating within Ahmedabad and elsewhere within India.”
There has been a dramatic drop in complaints in the U.S. about these scams so far in 2020. Because such calls are made using Voice over Internet (VoIP) systems, they have to travel through a “gateway carrier” to enter the domestic phone system and reach victims. U.S. law enforcement has been taking action against these gateway carriers, and this tactic has resulted in a sharp drop in automated recorded “robocalls” from outside the U.S. The same enforcement actions also took aim at caller ID spoofing.
Though scam calls have been reduced in the U.S., they have not been eliminated. Clever scammers will look for ways to evade these controls and adapt to law enforcement’s strides in preventing fraud. For example, in a recent development during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) says it has received over 1,700 complaints about calls supposedly from “IRS agents” who claim they can speed up stimulus payments under the CARES Act passed during the pandemic. Scammers get personal information from victims and use it to have government payments redirected to accounts they control.
This BBB study examines the size of the government impostor problem, identifies who is affected, examines the types of fraudulent claims made to victims of these scams, explains the elements needed to operate the scams, and looks at law enforcement efforts to identify and apprehend the perpetrators.
How common is government impostor fraud?
Government impostor scams produce many complaints to BBB, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
In 2019, BBB reports about scammers impersonating tax officials dropped sharply while reports about Social Security Administration (SSA) impersonators quadrupled in the U.S. Complaints about calls from Service Canada, however, have increased this year.
Total government impostor complaints
|Year||FTC||IC3||BBB Scam Tracker|
|2020 (through 6/30)||62,970||664|
IRS impostor complaints to BBB Scam Tracker
|2020 (through 6/30)||31|
SSA impostor complaints to BBB Scam Tracker
|2020 (through 6/30)||515|
Canada Revenue Agency impostor complaints
|2020 (through 5/14)||609|
Service Canada impostor complaints
|2020 (through 5/14)||3,875|
How much money is lost to government impostor fraud?
The amount of money lost to this fraud is staggering. In July 2019, the FTC estimated victims lost $450 million from 2014 until that time. This chart shows the losses reported to IC3 have quickly grown. (The FTC does not release annual loss numbers in its yearly reports.)
Internet Crime Complaint Center
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC)
|Year||Canada Revenue Agency||Service Canada|
|2018||$6.412 million||not available|
|2019||$1.49 million||$1.29 million|
|2020||$303,609 (through 5/14)||$1.228 million (through 6/30)|
How many of those receiving a government impostor call lose money?
The FTC estimates that about 6% of those receiving these calls lose money. As noted, however, even if most people do not respond to these calls, it is still a highly profitable endeavor for the scammers.
How are people contacted about government impostor scams?
The FTC estimates that contact is initiated by telephone 96% of the time. Some people also get emails, text messages or fake letters.
What is the average age of victims of impostor scams?
People ages 20-59 were more likely to lose money to these scams than those 60 years or older, but older victims were more likely to lose larger amounts of money, according to FTC estimates. AARP found that younger victims ages 18-49 are more likely to have health/emotional consequences from this scam; 25% of victims in this age group were found to experience these, versus 12% of older victims.
What are the average losses to these scams?
The amount of money lost can vary dramatically, from just a couple of hundred dollars to very large amounts. The FTC found that the median amount lost was $960. However, median losses for those over 60 were $2,700.
How do victims pay?
Victims pay through gift cards and reloadable cards 58% of the time, according to FTC research. Another 13% paid by wire transfer, either a bank-to-bank transfer or through Western Union or MoneyGram. The most recent complaints show that the majority of victims pay by gift card. Scammers do not need the card itself. They can access the money loaded on the cards if victims simply provide the scratch-off numbers on the back. Because many scammers also try to obtain bank account information, it is likely that money is also being stolen from victims’ accounts. In addition, many victims are being asked to send cash by mail or Federal Express.
Most common types of government impostor scams
At present, the bulk of complaints are about calls supposedly from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) or, in Canada, its counterpart Service Canada.
These scams often — though not always — begin with a robocall which, if not answered, leaves a voicemail message instructing the victim to call back. Most threaten an imminent arrest or legal action if the victim does not return the call. The number displayed on the caller ID is not the actual source of the call. In the course of these scams, they often also impersonate the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other enforcement agencies.
Social Security/Service Canada impersonators
Several different tactics are employed by these scammers. Most involve robocalls or direct phone calls, but SSA has recently warned that scammers have supplemented their efforts by sending emails to victims with attachments that look like official correspondence from SSA or the SSA Inspector General (SSA IG). These fake documents direct victims to call a specified “officer.”
Both the SSA IG and Service Canada have issued warnings to the public about impostor scams. In particular, the FTC reminds the public that Social Security numbers are never “suspended.” BBB also has issued warnings about Social Security impostors.
Increase a benefit: Some callers tell victims that they are eligible for increased Social Security benefits, typically claiming that it’s for a cost of living increase. The caller requests bank account details so that the money can be deposited into the victim’s account. Once the scammers have the victim’s bank account information, they are able to steal money from those accounts. This version of the scam only works for victims eligible for benefits.
Restore Social Security number: Other callers claim that the victim’s number has been suspended. The victim is asked for a payment to “restore” the number. In some variations, the scammers need details about the victim’s Social Security account. If that information is provided, the scammer can apply for benefits in a victim’s name or have the benefits redirected to accounts the scammer controls.
Social Security or Social Insurance Number used in a crime: Perhaps the most common Social Security-related scam involves threat of arrest. Scammers call directly or leave voicemail messages telling victims that if they do not call back, they will be arrested right away. The FTC has posted one of these Social Security scam recordings.
Callers pretend to be law enforcement, such as the FBI, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or DEA. They tell victims a car was found abandoned with drugs and blood in it, often in El Paso, Texas, and that the car was rented using the victim’s Social Security number. When people deny involvement, the “officer” then says they must be an identity theft victim and money needs to be moved out of their bank accounts temporarily because
1) the ID thieves may steal it or
2) the government is freezing it because of criminal charges.
Thus, they have victims withdraw money from their bank accounts, buy gift cards, and read the numbers over the phone to the “agent.” These scammers claim they will visit the victim at their home in a few days, return their money, and provide them with a new Social Security number.
A BBB office in Wisconsin returned one of these calls and played along until asked for bank account information. They have posted the call on YouTube.
This scam successfully defrauded a Chicago college basketball coach named London. After a team workout in June 2019, he listened to a voicemail message from the Social Security Administration advising him that his identity had been used in Texas and asking him to call back.
He returned the call and spoke to a man who claimed to be with Social Security. The caller said someone using London’s identity had been involved in a cocaine deal in Texas and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The caller already knew a great deal of information about London, including his parent’s names and email addresses. London said he was scared at the time.
The caller then transferred London to “Officer Hayden Smith” of the DEA, who provided his badge number. Smith said there was an open investigation on London and asked for his cooperation. He said if London didn’t cooperate, a warrant would be issued for his arrest and the crime would be made public. Smith stressed that if London hung up the phone, he would be immediately arrested.
Smith said London’s bank account was frozen. In order to move the funds out of his personal account and into a “safety account,” London would have to buy Target gift cards, which the police would turn over to the U.S. Treasury to place into an account where his money would be safe.
London was told to buy Target gift cards in the same amount as his bank account balance. He withdrew all the money in both his checking and savings accounts. Smith directed London to drive to five different Target stores to buy more than $28,000 in gift cards while he stayed on the phone. After the final purchase, London read the numbers from the cards to Smith in the parking lot. Before reading them all, London used his phone to look up “fake call scammers” and found an FTC warning describing this type of call. He knew then that he was scammed, and he said, “You’re scamming me. I’m hanging up.” The agent then said, “You don’t want to do that, this is for the police.” The scammers kept calling back, and London’s mom got on the phone and cursed them for their actions.
London knew the president of BBB of Central Ohio and called him for advice. He filed reports with BBB, the police and Target. He was able to recoup $2,000 because he hadn’t provided all of the gift card numbers to the scammers, but the rest of the money was gone.
Lina is a St. Louis teacher who had a similar experience in June 2019 when she received two robocalls from “Social Security” on the same day. She knew a bit about scam calls pretending to be the IRS and tech support scams, and she knew from her work that Social Security does not call people by phone, so she was skeptical.
The first call, which she did not return, was a robotic-sounding voicemail message that claimed her Social Security number had been compromised and instructed her to call the number that appeared on her caller ID. She did not respond. Lina says that this recording was the same as the one captured on nomorobo.com’s website.
Later that day, a second robocall recording — from a cellphone number registered with a company in India — prompted her to “press one” to talk to a live person. The man who answered told Lina her Social Security number had been compromised and asked for her full name and the last four digits of her Social Security number.
Lina made up a fake name and gave the man four random numbers instead of her real Social Security information. The man told Lina he saw her case and that her Social Security number had been used in El Paso, Texas and had been linked to drug trafficking and money laundering. He asked her if she had a bank account with Bank of America, Wells Fargo or Chase or if she had shared her information with anyone. She told him no.
He then provided her with a case number and a warrant identification number.
The man told Lina she needed to pay $8,900 and an additional $1,000. The reason for these amounts was unclear. He asked if she had left her purse unattended, apparently suggesting she might be a victim of identity theft. Lina said she would never risk losing her information because there are people out there taking advantage and scamming them. At that point, the caller recognized Lina’s suspicion and hung up on her. Lina reported the incident to BBB to help prevent others from being scammed.
Internal Revenue Service/Canada Revenue Agency impostors
Although the exact nature of these calls varies, there are several clear points of similarity. The caller pretends to be a federal agent and claims the victim is about to be arrested for unpaid taxes or for tax fraud, often pretending that officers will be there within an hour or two to arrest them. But the victim can avoid this if they pay a fine, or the unpaid taxes, immediately. Victims are told to go to a local store to buy gift cards and then provide the caller with the numbers on the back of each card. Often the caller stays on the telephone with the victim throughout this process, sometimes for hours.
Scammers pay close attention to current events in order to further their schemes, and there have been numerous efforts to exploit the pandemic.
- TIGTA reports that callers have impersonated the IRS, claiming to expedite benefits under the CARES Act.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of scam calls displaying the CDC’s phone number in caller ID. Some of these calls request donations. Emails or text messages may contain malicious programs that are downloaded if the recipient clicks on a link. IC3 has issued a similar warning about fake CDC emails.
- BBB warns of texts, emails, or social media notices claiming to be from contact tracers, informing the recipient that they may have come in contact with someone who has tested positive to the virus. These may contain malicious attachments or seek personal information for use in other scams. The contact tracing scam has been noted as a particular problem in the UK.
- Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently issued an alert to U.S. financial institutions urging them to be alert to government impostor and money mule scams that are related to COVID-19.
In these scams, callers tell victims that they have failed to report for jury duty, have ignored warnings about this issue, and are to be arrested within hours. Often these calls actually display the caller ID of the U.S. Marshals’ office or the local sheriff’s department. The victim is told that they can avoid arrest if they pay a fine and purchase gift cards. BBB, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Federal Courts are only a few of the groups that have warned of this scam.
Danny received a call in 2018 from a man identifying himself as Captain Rolland from the local Wichita County (Texas) Sheriff’s Department, telling him a warrant had been issued for his arrest as the result of failing to appear for scheduled jury duty. Danny was told he needed to pay a fine of $9,500 by buying Green Dot MoneyPak “vouchers” at Office Depot. He was told he should buy the vouchers, provide the numbers to the caller, and go to the sheriff’s department to explain his innocence. After that, the caller said, Danny’s money would be refunded and all charges would be removed from his record.
When Danny asked if this was a scam, he was invited to do an internet search of the number on his caller ID. Danny did so, and the number did belong to the local sheriff’s department. He said the callers were extremely polished and convincing. They kept him on the phone for over an hour before he asked his wife to call the local sheriff’s office. She did, and they told her it was a scam. Danny then told the scammers he had the real sheriff’s office on the other line, and they immediately hung up on him. He filed a complaint with BBB to help prevent others from falling for this scam. Not long after this event, the sheriff’s office issued an alert.
Customs and immigration
This scam targets immigrants living in the United States or Canada. Victims are told there is an irregularity in their passport or immigration papers, and that they will be deported from the U.S. in days. Victims are instructed to buy gift cards to pay a fine. This scam also includes calls purporting to come from the U.S. Consulate in another country. They employ the same tactics to get money from victims. U.S. and Canadian governments have warned of this scam.
Victims receive calls stating the government is providing grants that don’t need to be repaid. However, scammers tell victims fees are needed before the grant money can be delivered. The FTC and BBB have issued warnings about this scam.
Many of the grant scams locate victims on social media, where scammers send messages looking like they are from a Facebook friend that claims the “friend” recently was awarded a free grant worth thousands of dollars. The message urges the targeted victims to reach out to an agent by phone or text so they, too, can get a grant. Scammers then demand fees to get the grant, which is never delivered.
Sylvie’s case is typical of a grant scam. She lives in San Mateo, California, and works as a security guard. In October 2019, she received a voicemail message saying she had been randomly selected to receive a government grant of $11,300. She confirms that it was the same voicemail message posted at nomorobo.com.
She returned the call and talked to “Irene Johnson,” and Sylvie thought it sounded like she was talking to a call center in India. Irene connected her to another representative who asked her questions about the purpose of the grant, suggesting she respond that it was for education. Sylvie planned to use the money to help her son and daughter.
Irene told Sylvie there was a $500 application fee, and told her to go to a store and buy a $500 eBay gift card and call her back. Sylvie did as asked, returning the call, taking a photo of the pictures on the back of the card and sending that back as a text message.
Sylvie then got a call from “Adam Hunter,” who said he was with the Federal Reserve Bank and that they had two government checks for Sylvie for her grant money. But he told her she needed to buy another eBay gift card to cover “check processing fees.” She did, texting the photos to Hunter. Hunter then texted her photos of her government grant checks.
Hunter then had Sylvie buy additional gift cards to cover “delivery fees,” “tracking number fees,” and “California state taxes.” She spent $2,000 on gift cards she provided to Hunter. Hunter promised all of this money, except the application fee, would be refunded to her, but it never was.
Hunter promised to have her grant checks delivered to her in person, but they never appeared. The money Sylvie sent was intended for her rent, car insurance, food and gas. She complained to eBay and her bank, but could not get any money out. Sylvie called BBB to file a complaint.
Sylvie called Irene and Adam to complain about being scammed, hoping to tie them up so they couldn’t scam other people. They were rude, showed no empathy and told her she wouldn’t get her money back.
Victoria, an assistant manager at a Kwik Stop in Nebraska, had a similar experience. In December 2018, Victoria got an email purporting to be from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It said she was selected from a group of 1,500 people to receive a $9,000 grant. She called the number provided and spoke to a man named Bill, who she said spoke with a thick accent and told her he’d moved to the U.S. from the Middle East. He told Victoria that to receive her grant, she had to pay a $200 fee. Bill told Victoria that $9,000 grant money would be directly deposited into her bank account. He also told her she had to pay the fee or she would be arrested. Victoria was frightened and provided her bank account information. She had two small children at home and did not want to go to jail.
Bill instructed her to drive to a local Walmart to buy a Green Dot MoneyPak. He stayed on the phone with her while she did this. He had her scratch off the number on the back of the card, take a photo of the numbers, and text it to him.
After she had paid the money, Bill told her she needed to pay another $150, promising it would be refunded to her later. Victoria did not have enough money. Bill told her to go to the bank, and he would stay on the phone. She explained the situation to a bank manager, who told her it was a fraud, and that this was the second time that week someone had come in with this type of scam. The bank manager put the scammer on the speaker phone and asked a few questions. The scammer got angry and cursed at them, then hung up. Victoria never received the supposed grant.
Other types of government impersonation
There are other types of scams that rely on the authority of the government to get money or information from victims, and inventive scammers are likely to try new approaches. For example, lottery scammers calling from Costa Rica have impersonated actual people at the FTC and other agencies in lottery scams (including the author of this study). Others impersonate Medicare in efforts to file bogus claims for durable medical equipment like back braces.
Red Flags: How to identify impostor scams
How can you spot and avoid someone impersonating a government agency?
- The IRS generally first contacts people by mail — not by phone — about unpaid taxes.
- Never provide your bank account or other personal information to anyone who calls you.
- Don’t pay by gift card. The IRS and other government agencies will not insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order, bitcoin or by sending cash.
- The IRS will never request personal or financial information by email, text, or any social media. Don’t click on links in emails or text messages.
- Social Security numbers are never “suspended.”
- Caller ID cannot be trusted to confirm that the source of the call is a government agency. Look up the phone number for the real agency and call to see if they are really trying to contact you — and why.
- The Social Security Administration will never threaten to arrest you because of an identity theft problem.
Key elements of government impostor scams
How do scammers know who to call? Lead lists.
Scammers buy lead lists of names, phone numbers, and other information about potential victims. This is not necessarily illegal, since there are legitimate uses for such leads. A quick internet search for “leads” shows hundreds, if not thousands, of sources that sell them. Sensitive personal information that is procured in data breaches is also sold in underground forums such as the dark web.
Many impostor victims report that the caller already had a great deal of personal information about them, sometimes including their Social Security numbers, which enhanced their credibility. In many cases, victims are asked to “confirm” personal information, suggesting the caller already has it. In reality, though, this may simply be an attempt to trick people into disclosing this information.
VoIP calls and robocalls are popular with scammers.
Recently there have been strong law enforcement efforts to stem the flood of calls from India and elsewhere, particularly by targeting those who make the calls possible.
Scammers place calls to victims through a VoIP system, meaning they make the calls over a broadband internet connection rather than over a traditional phone. If the call is sent from outside the U.S., these calls must go through a “gateway carrier” before distribution to the major phone company systems and then to phones. This applies to both direct calls as well as robocalls. Most of these calls have codes that disguise the actual caller ID information and trick the system into displaying almost any originating number the scammers desire. By using this “spoofing” process, government impostor calls can show the phone number of a real government agency. Finally, the telephone number needs to appear to be a U.S. telephone
number for U.S. consumers to call back, or for when victims “press 1” to talk to a live operator. Many gateway carriers have provided scammers with all of these services.
Recently there have been efforts to combat VoIP calls, including robocalls. In 2019, the FTC sued Canada-based VoIP service provider Globex and James Christiano for transmitting robocalls into the United States. In December 2019, the U.S. adopted the TRACED Act, which encourages the use of technology to combat robocalls and caller ID spoofing.
With help from the telecom industry, the FTC has been sending warning letters to gateway carriers in the U.S. alerting them that they can be legally liable for assisting and facilitating fraud. The FTC sent 19 such letters to U.S. VoIP providers in January 2020, another nine in March, and two more in April that came jointly from the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Since then, there has been a reduction in the volume of robocall complaints that the FTC receives.
The Justice Department filed two cases in January 2020 against gateway carriers that they alleged handled hundreds of millions of calls from India, many of them robocalls involving government impostors. Cases against Tollfree Deals and Global Voicecom, Inc. allege similar facts. Both companies not only allowed robocalls into the U.S., but also were involved in spoofing caller IDs and in providing phone numbers for victims to call back that appeared to be domestic.
In the Tollfree Deals case, the complaint alleges that, over a 23-day period in May and June 2019, the company transmitted 720 million calls into the U.S., including 143 million calls from one India-based operation alone. The callers claimed to be from Social Security, the IRS, and U.S. Customs and Immigration. Other calls were for tech support scams and loans that were supposedly pre-approved.
In the Global Voicecom case, the calls involved SSA, IRS and Treasury, USCIS, jury duty, tech support and calls supposedly from foreign governments, claiming problems with the immigration status or passport of people in the U.S.
Fake caller ID or caller ID spoofing
Many people now have caller ID, which is meant to let them know who is calling by displaying the phone number and sometimes the name of the caller. But scammers are able to display any information they want. There have been calls that pretended to be from Social Security, the Competition Bureau in Canada, or local police. The SSA has now worked with the telephone industry to prevent their numbers from being displayed on caller IDs.
Non-standard payment methods to scammers
There is no point in running a scam unless you can get money from victims. Most impostor scams get money through gift cards or stored value cards. At times, though, they have asked victims to do bank-to-bank wire transfers, use MoneyGram or Western Union, or even ask for payment in bitcoin. What these payment mechanisms have in common is that it is very difficult to stop the transaction after victims realize that they have been defrauded.
Gift cards: This is the government impostor’s favorite payment method. Scammers sometimes stay on the phone while victims drive to Walmart, Target or a pharmacy. After victims pay for the cards, the scammers tell them to read (or text a photo) of the codes on the back of the cards. Armed with this information, scammers can cash out the cards through a variety of websites. TIGTA also reports that many of the scammers use the gift cards to purchase phones or other electronics, which they then resell on online marketplaces. Both TIGTA and the SSA Inspector General (SSA IG) have been working with major retailers to educate them about scams and how to help victims that come in to buy these cards.
Stored value cards: Scammers sometimes use stored value cards such as those offered through Green Dot. The scammers have someone set up an online account, and the scammer has a physical card that can operate like an ATM card. Green Dot has a simple method to load more money onto these cards. Retail stores sell MoneyPaks in different denominations. Customers pay cash for these, which are simply pieces of cardboard, and the store enters the information into a computer system. Scammers then have victims scratch off the code on the card and read it to them. The scammers can then enter that information into their account online and then withdraw cash from ATM machines. Other companies offer stored value cards that operate essentially the same way.
Other payment methods: TIGTA says some scammers have victims send cash by Federal Express or UPS. Others open accounts at banks such as Bank of America, then ask victims to go to a local branch and deposit money into those accounts.
Mules/runners: Scammers need people in the U.S. or Canada to collect and launder the money sent by victims. They typically take the money out in cash, keep part of it as payment, and send the rest to India. Laundering money this way can be a complicated process. Law enforcement in the U.S. and Canada have successfully traced the money to Indian nationals in these countries and prosecuted them.
Call center expertise
Most government impostor scams claiming to be from the SSA, the IRS, U.S. Customs, jury duty, and Medicare appear to originate from call centers in India. As a previous BBB study demonstrates, India is also home to most tech support scams.
Why India? India is a very large country with an educated populace but a great deal of poverty. English speakers are common, and many large companies use legitimate call centers there to handle customer service calls from the U.S. and Canada. Therefore, the country already has a sizable workforce trained in telemarketing. The same scams hitting the U.S. and Canada are also common in the UK and Australia. The BBC has aired a video of the inside of a call center in India operating a tech support scam.
Law enforcement efforts to combat impostor scams
Law enforcement efforts in the U.S. and Canada
Prosecuting impostor scammers has been a priority for law enforcement. Many Indian nationals have been living in the U.S. and Canada, sometimes illegally, while working directly with scam call centers in India. Many of these scammers received and laundered money from victims.
TIGTA relates that 170 people in the U.S. have been charged in federal court over IRS impostor scams. BBB has been able to identify 91 people prosecuted to date in the United States. Most of those sentenced to date have received substantial sentences in federal court. Some face deportation when their prison term ends.
Some of these prosecutions have been the result of concentrated efforts and headed up in locations like the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta) and the Southern District of Texas (Houston). A sample of these include:
- October 2016: Indictments of 61 for IRS impersonation from India in Southern District of Texas
- July 20, 2018: 24 defendants sentenced in India-based call center scam in the Southern District of Texas
- September 7, 2018: 15 defendants and five India-based call centers indicted over IRS impersonation
- March 12, 2019: Three defendants and an India-based call center indicted in the Northern District of Georgia
Law enforcement efforts in India
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the government of India has been able to stop the scammers. In several cases, the police there have taken part in raids on large call centers and arrested large numbers of people, but actual prosecutions are very rare. Corruption is clearly a problem. One IRS impersonator, with an interview posted on YouTube, asserts that the call centers receive warnings in advance about police raids.
U.S. and Canadian law enforcement have worked with law enforcers in India who have “busted” a number of call centers located there. These include:
- In October 2016, nine call centers running an IRS scam that employed more than 770 people in Mumbai.
- In February 2018, a call center in Pune making IRS calls.
- In August 2018, a call center in Bhayandar impersonating IRS officials.
- In October 2018, a call center in Noida scamming Canadians by impersonating the Canadian Revenue Agency.
- In December 2018, another call center in Noida impersonated SSA employees and arrested 126 people.
- Between December 2018 and March 2019, the RCMP worked with India to bust 40 call centers impersonating the Canada Revenue Agency.
Despite these efforts, there is little evidence that these scammers are being prosecuted in India. BBB has seen no signs that anyone has ever been extradited for prosecution.
A Justice Department official wrote an article about efforts to fight telemarketing fraud coming from India, saying:
To date, the United States government has not received any information concerning the investigation, arrest or prosecution by Indian authorities of 31 of the India-based defendants charged as part of the public indictment in this case for their alleged criminal conduct. The one and only defendant in this case known to have been prosecuted in India in relation to his involvement in similar Indian call center fraud, hailed in the Indian press as a “mastermind” of these schemes, was released from an Indian jail on bail after only 14 months of incarceration. See Arvind Walmiki, After 14 Months, Thane Call Centre Scam mastermind ‘Shaggy’ Granted Bail, HINDUSTAN TIMES (June 19, 2018).
Where to complain about impostor scams
IRS: The IRS advises people to fill out the “IRS Impersonation Scam” form on TIGTA’s website, tigta.gov, or call TIGTA at 1-800- 366-4484.
Social Security: SSA IG has its own online form to take complaints about frauds impersonating the SSA.
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre: In Canada, contact CAFC about all government impersonation scams at 1-888-495-8501 or online.
Federal Trade Commission: 877-FTC-Help or ftc.gov.
Local Television Station Hosts Candidate Debates
Local Republican candidates for Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters (I) and Blake Elsberry, along with GOP candidates for Chattooga County Probate Judge Teresa Pope and Gary Woods taped television debates last week that will begin airing today on SKY 21 TV.
The debates were held in the SKY 21 studio and featured questions submitted by the public and an out-of-town moderator.
According to SKY 21 TV’s schedule, the debates are airing today at 6 AM and again this evening at 6 PM.
Commissioner Jason Winters came in second place – by just two votes – in the June Republican Primary and is facing off against political newcomer Blake Elsberry. The winner of the runoff election will face Democratic candidate Jimmy Holbrook in November.
Gary Woods was the front-runner in a three-way race in the June Primary to see which Republican candidate would run for the Probate Judge’s office. Woods is facing off with Teresa Pope in the August 11th Republican Runoff Election. The winner of that race will be facing Independent Holley Strawn-Gilliland in the General Election in November.
Health Inspection Scores - Last Half Of July
Here are the latest health inspection scores for the last half of July from the Chattooga County Environmental Health Department:
- 9880 COMMERCE ST SUMMERVILLE, GA 30747
- Phone Number:
- Permit Type: FS
- Last Inspection Score: 96
- Last Inspection Date: 07-28-2020
LOS MAGUEY’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT
- 10020 COMMERCE ST SUMMERVILLE, GA 30747
- Phone Number:
- Permit Type: FS
- Last Inspection Score: 92
- Last Inspection Date: 07-28-2020
- 11277 HIGHWAY 27 SUMMERVILLE, GA 30747
- Phone Number:
- Permit Type: FS
- Last Inspection Score: 95
Should you ever have any complaint with any food service or tourist accommodation that operates in Chattooga County, you can register that complaint by calling the Chattooga County Environmental Health Department at 706-857-3377.
NGEMC Late Fees & Disconnections - UPDATE
North Georgia EMC members in Chattooga County have been under a “grace period” during the COVID-19 pandemic for late fees and disconnections; but you might want to be aware of some important dates concerning your power bill.
All late fees were suspended back in April, meaning that even if you were late paying your bill, you weren’t being charged any extra. The end of the late fee suspension was on August 1st.
Also, if you are behind on your power bill and subject to disconnection, you haven’t had to worry about your power being shut off so far during the pandemic. According North Georgia EMC, the deadline for disconnection suspensions is coming up on August 12th.
So if you are behind on your North Georgia EMC bill, what should you do? North Georgia EMC is encouraging you to reach out to them now. They say that their member services team will work with you with extended payment plans and offer solutions moving forward. You can contact the North Georgia EMC office in Trion at 706-734-7341.
All North Georgia EMC lobbies are closed at this time, including the one in Trion; but the drive-through windows are open at all locations.
Early Voting For Runoff Election Brisk
Over one thousand voters in Chattooga County have already voted in the August 11th Republican Runoff election, according to the latest numbers from the Chattooga County Registrars Office.
Voters were able to vote this past Saturday in the runoff election, and poll workers at the Registrars Office say that 77 people took advantage of Saturday voting. In all, 1077 people have already cast their ballots in the election.
Voters are deciding in two hotly-contested local races and casting their ballots to see who the Republican nominee will be for the 14th Congressional District of Georgia.
Early voting will continue through Friday of this week leading up to the runoff election next Tuesday. All early voting takes place at the Registrars Office on Commerce Street in Summerville. Be sure to bring a picture I.D. when you come to vote.
Accident Takes The Life Of Chattooga County Man
A fatal crash between a vehicle and motorcycle on Sunday afternoon took the life of a forty-one-year-old Chattooga County man. The accident happened near the entrance to Little Caesar’s Pizza on Highway 27 in Summerville. According to reports, the victim passed away en route to Floyd Medical Center. WZQZ News will have more information when a report is released by law enforcement.
Judge Payne's Family Updates His Condition
Chattooga County Probate Judge Jon Payne remains hospitalized in Rome after contracting COVID-19. Judge Payne’s family contacted WZQZ News on Sunday afternoon to release this statement:
Jon is resting in a Floyd County hospital. He is experiencing symptoms of the Corona Virus and is currently receiving breathing treatments as well as other C-19 treatments.
We would like to thank all that are praying and concerned for Jon.
Thanks from our whole family
All of us at WZQZ are praying for Judge Payne’s full recovery.