True Crime Thursday – A Small Town’s Loss of Innocence

West entrance to Fuel Fitness

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

This is a post I never imagined I’d write, nor is it one I ever wanted to write.

September 16, 2021 started as gorgeous sunny morning in my hometown of Kalispell, Montana.

The night before had been the first freeze of the season. Still-hopeful gardeners covered tomato plants with blankets. Burning bushes transitioned from green to deep pink. Trees were turning yellow, red, and orange.

Kalispell is not without crime. Thirty years ago, we didn’t lock our houses and often left keys in the ignition. No longer. Still, it’s generally a quiet, safe community.

I drove to my regular morning workout at Fuel Fitness gym on Highway 2. The parking lot is behind the building on the north side. I parked in the last slot at the far end, away from other cars.

The Zumba class takes place in an interior studio with south-facing windows, separated from the main exercise equipment area. The music is loud, drowning out exterior sounds.

In the Zumba class, we never heard the gunshots.

At 11 a.m. the music had just ended on the last song when an employee hurried into the studio. Calm but nervous, she said there had been a shooting in the parking lot and the building was locked down. Police and sheriff deputies were on scene.

More vehicles, with lights and sirens, arrived every minute.

We watched two ambulances and a fire truck scream past the studio windows facing Highway 2.

People in the main gym area were looking out the north windows at the parking lot. That didn’t seem smart so I stayed well away.

Officers filled the lobby and check-in area. More lined up outside the glass wall facing the lot.

Employees moved in and out of the manager’s office. They told us that the scene was secured and there was no more danger but reiterated no one could leave the building.

Rumors and speculation circulated among about 50 patrons as we waited. People called loved ones. I received texts asking if I was safe. A Zumba friend had left her phone in her car. Her sister texted me saying she couldn’t get hold of her. Were we okay? I gave the friend my phone to reassure her family.

After about 15 minutes, the two ambulances left, sirens wailing.

Details dribbled out from people who had witnessed the incident through the north windows.

The alleged killer’s blue truck and black trailer he was living in.

A man had been living in his blue pickup and black cargo trailer in the gym parking lot for a couple of weeks. For $25/month, he could use the gym’s showers and bathroom. But apparently there had been complaints about him.

Later I learned he had previously been living in the parking lot of another gym and had been asked to leave the premises.

On this day, the manager and assistant manager went out to the parking lot and told him he had to go. They refunded his fees. He demanded more money. They refused. He said they were going to die today and pulled a gun.

According to witnesses, he shot the manager. The assistant manager took cover and escaped injury.

A gym patron was in the parking lot, checking on his dog in his truck, when he witnessed the commotion. He grabbed a gun from his truck and ordered the instigator to stop. The instigator shot at the patron who returned fire.

Both the instigator and the patron were wounded in the exchange of gunshots.

Locked down inside the gym, we knew none of these details, only that one person was dead and two were wounded, none of them identified. We were assured there was no further danger but we could not leave because the parking lot was a crime scene.

In the lobby, a man held the leash of a large, tan-and-white pitbull, patting him and talking to him. The dog sat quiet, panting. He was amazingly well-behaved, considering his owner, the Good Samaritan, had just been shot.

An officer announced that they needed witness statements from everyone inside, whether or not they had seen or heard anything. Then, one by one, we would be escorted outside to check for damage to our vehicles and to retrieve personal belongings.

The witness form asked for name, address, phone numbers, date of birth, and information about what we had seen or heard. Mine was easy since I had none.

People milled around and speculated.

Snippets of conversation: How could someone shoot an unarmed guy like that? He was just doing his job. It’s just plain wrong. I hope the manager and the hero are all right and the effing shooter is dead.

The business phone rang incessantly. Employees answered inquiries but couldn’t offer more information.

An hour passed.

My white Toyota is the last car in the line. The black trailer was about 50 feet behind my car.

At that point, I decided it was safe to look out a window to check my car. Yellow crime scene tape ran behind it but it appeared undamaged. However, several officers stood near it. That made me wonder if it had been hit. I told the officer collecting witness statements that my car was at the far end of the lot. She made a note and said she would call me next.

She also said no cars would be allowed to leave the lot because of the ongoing investigation. People who had not witnessed the incident would be released soon but needed to call for rides.

A sheriff detective said I couldn’t go to my car because it was too near the crime site. Since I had witnessed nothing, I would be permitted to leave the area, escorted by an officer.

Perhaps 50 officers were clustered in groups around the lot, talking. That had to be every on-duty law enforcement officer in the county, plus more. At least 20 city, county, and state vehicles with flashing lights blocked the entrance and lined the highway.

The officer escorted me to one boundary of the yellow crime scene tape strung across the parking lot exit. He turned me over to a different officer who logged my name on a check-out sheet. I ducked under the crime scene tape and continued to the exit. Another man approached and said he was a chaplain for the police and fire department and offered assistance, now or later, with processing the incident.

Witnesses being questioned

The alleged killer’s blue truck and black trailer. My car was about 50 feet behind the trailer.

Several hours of uncertainty followed. But, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. Between phone calls and texts, by about four p.m., I had figured out:

The instigator was in critical condition in the hospital;

The Good Samaritan hero was in good condition in the hospital;

The manager was dead. His name was Matthew David Hurley.

Matt was 27 and engaged to be married, always friendly, smiling, and welcoming.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had asked him if he could put up a poster on the bulletin board about a book event I was doing with three other mystery authors. “Sure!” he said. “We love to support locals. It’s all about community.”

~~~

The next morning, the parking lot was cleared and we could pick up our cars. The pavement had been scrubbed of blood stains. The blue truck and black trailer were gone. No sign remained of the deadly showdown.

Matt was right about community.

That evening, a memorial was held in the parking lot. When I arrived, the area was packed with vehicles and about 200 people milled around outside, including Matt’s extended family who had arrived from Missoula.

A bonfire in an oil drum took the chill off the night.

The crowd ranged from a man with long flowing white hair to middle-aged people to young families with kids including an infant less than a month old. Matt’s sister held the leash of his beautiful Golden Retriever who wanted to make friends with everyone, including a dachshund that wasn’t quite sure about the big dog. Coworkers, gym customers, neighbors, buddies, and family—everyone was supportive of each other…and heartbroken.

I learned from a tearful employee that Matt had been killed instantly. She worried he might have been in pain and was reassured he had not suffered.

Someone pointed out the Good Samaritan hero who had been released from the hospital. He attended the memorial with his wife and teenage daughter. I’d seen him working out at the gym but didn’t know him. I learned his name is Will, a serious, unsmiling man in his forties.

He and the assistant manager, who escaped death during the shootout, were deep in conversation. After several minutes, they hugged like two buddies who’d been in the trenches together.

As candles were passed out, a handsome older gentleman asked if he could light his candle from mine. He was Matt’s grandfather. He proudly told me that, two years before, his then-twenty-five-year-old grandson had been promoted from assistant manager at the Fuel Fitness in Missoula to the general manager of the new Kalispell store.

Soon after Matt had started his new job, Grandpa drove 120 miles from Missoula to surprise him. He told the clerk at the front desk he needed to see the manager because he had complaints. Matt hurried out from his office, concerned about an unhappy customer, only to recognize his grandfather, the prankster.

At last, the crowd thinned around Will, the Good Samaritan hero, and I went over to him.

His fast, courageous action stopped the shooter. If Will hadn’t acted, who knows how large the scale of the tragedy might have been with a building full of potential targets.

I said, “Thank you for what you did.”

He doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. But, in the instant our eyes met, we both recognized the life-changing enormity of Matt’s horrific murder on family, friends, coworkers, gym patrons, neighbors, and the entire community that had once been our safe little town.

Will started to shake hands but instead grabbed me in a hug.

We held on tight for a long time.

The life we knew was forever changed.

~~~

Correction: the instigator did not die as I had previously been told. According to the Daily Interlake newspaper:

Kalispell Police Chief Doug Overman said his agency would not release the suspected killer’s name until formal charges are filed. Overman said the department’s case was submitted to the Flathead County Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

County Attorney Travis Ahner had a brief comment on the investigation.

“Our office is reviewing the initial investigative reports from this incident that have been submitted by the Kalispell Police Department,” Ahner said. “They have kept us updated throughout the incident and ensuing investigation, and I’m confident that the matter is being handled thoroughly and appropriately.”

True Crime Thursday – Are You Dead or Alive Scam

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Annie Spratt – Unsplash

 

Attorney Steve Weisman runs a great website called Scamicide.com where he posts daily updates about scams making the rounds. I subscribe to it and highly recommend it to keep current with the latest iterations concocted by criminals.

Added bonus: scams make good story fodder in the devious minds of crime writers.

Recently Steve wrote about a particularly funny email from Nigeria (quoted with Steve’s permission):

 

“From: Mr. Chris jack <hanskaffa@kabelfoon.net>
To:
Sent: Thu, May 6, 2021 10:26 am
Subject: Good Day

I am writing to confirm if you are DEAD or ALIVE and failure to reply back within 48hrs, simply means what Rev Patrick Larry said today was right that you are dead. As he was trying to claim your compensation funds worth $ 850,000.00 from United Nations for USA scams victims. Rev Patrick Larry has offered to pay the needed fee for the Bond Stamp Duty fee of your funds, but we have not gotten the money from him yet, as we want to find out if you are dead or not, Below is the information needed from you Name: ______ Phone: _________ Address: ________Email:
_______ Occupation: __________ So if you are still alive you are advice in your own best interest to reply back immediately with your full details as stated for your funds.Best Regards,
Mr Chris jack,
chairman payment transfer department IMF.”

That rascal Rev Patrick Larry is spreading false rumors about your demise, while greedily attempting to cash in on compensation that’s rightfully due to you.

How dare he?

Of course, there is no United Nations fund that compensates scam victims.

A Bond Stamp Duty fee is typical scammer BS. To an unsuspecting victim, the term sounds official but is totally bogus.

If an innocent soul fell for this, the next email might request payment of the Bond Stamp Duty fee by a gift card or wire transfer (both of which are untraceable and cannot be recovered). Mr. Chris jack also needs bank account details so he can deposit the $850K. And for good measure, better include the beneficiary’s Social Security number in case taxes have to be withheld.

For the beneficiary’s further convenience, Mr. Chris jack also graciously sent a link to click…that downloads malware.  

Side note: I learned about the above criminal tactics from Steve and Scamicide.

If you receive such an email, you could respond by quoting Mark Twain: 

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

On second thought, better to just hit the trash button.

~~~

TKZers:

Are you dead or alive? 

In the comment section, please share the latest scam email you or someone you know has received. 

~~~

 

 

In Stalking Midas, a glamorous con artist creates an elaborate scam to bilk senior citizens who are concerned about their pets. Please check out Debbie Burke’s thriller at Amazon or other online retailers.

 

True Crime Thursday – Easter Bunny Didn’t Bring THESE Eggs

Photo credit: Pawel Czerwinski – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

On Palm Sunday 2020, residents of Flagler County in Florida found small plastic eggs in their mailboxes. Had the Easter Bunny arrived early?

Not exactly.

When recipients cracked open the eggs, they found each one contained a sheet of toilet paper, a goldfish cracker, fizzy drink powder, and…a crumpled page of pornography.

Even by 2020 weirdness standards, this incident rated high on the Bizarro-meter.

Sheriff Rick Staley asked the community to check their home surveillance cams and call leads into Crimestoppers to try to determine the identity of the perverse egg dispenser.

The following Thursday, based on a tip, deputies arrested Abril Cestoni, 42, a supermarket employee who reportedly had delivered about 400 plastic eggs to area mailboxes. She had created the pornographic pages using a computer program.

The reason is not exactly clear.

Here’s bodycam video from the arresting officer.

If there was an explanation in the footage, I missed it.

Ms. Cestoni was charged with multiple counts of distributing obscene materials, failure to appear on a traffic summons, and violating the governor’s stay-at-home order.

According to the Inmate Detail form, charges were later dismissed or she was sentenced to time served.

To the relief of Flagler County residents, on Easter Sunday, the legitimate Easter Bunny delivered regular Easter eggs.

~~~

TKZers: Have you run across any particularly bizarre and/or inexplicable crimes in the past year or so? Please share in the comments.

~~~

 

$.99 on sale from July 29 through August 1, 2021! Debbie Burke’s thriller Eyes in the Sky is available for Canadian friends on Kobo plus other online stores. 

Please check out the international links here and for Kindle. 

True Crime Thursday – You Got the Wrong Guy

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Alex Galloso, Unsplash

We’re all aware of the staggering rise of identity theft that can screw up our credit. According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2020, the FTC received 4.8 million reports of identity theft and fraud, a 45% increase from 2019.

But if a criminal claims to be you, does that mean you could be locked up for an outstanding warrant?

In the case of Jonah Scott Miller, yes.

When Zin Mali McDade, a transient, was arrested in Brevard County, Florida, he claimed his name was Jonah Scott Miller, who had been a childhood acquaintance. Both were born in December, 1985, six days apart. However, Jonah is 6’2” and Zin is 5’7”.

The real Jonah, who works security for a hospital, was arrested during Bike Week in Daytona Beach in 2019 on a failure to appear warrant for shoplifting, a warrant actually meant for Zin.

When Jonah told police they had the wrong man and he had never been to Brevard County, the arresting officer accused him of lying. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, she said:

“I suggest you get a lawyer because somebody’s lying. If it’s not you lying to me, it’s somebody you know because they know way too much about you. They knew your date of birth, your social, where you were born, your address and they have your tattoos.”

Jonah protested his tattoos couldn’t match anyone else’s because they were the names of his kids.

Apparently, no one at the scene brought up the mugshot from Zin’s arrest.

Jonah was booked into Volusia County Jail. There, officers discovered the mugshot on file didn’t match the real Jonah. The fingerprints on record also didn’t match the real Jonah. Yet, despite the obvious mistake, the innocent victim of identity theft spent the night in jail.

Attorney Steve Weisman of Scamicide.com recommends being proactive if someone impersonates you. Contact a lawyer, law enforcement, and the prosecutor/district attorney to file a report that you are the victim of identity theft. Show your driver’s license, passport, or other photo ID to prove who you are. Request a letter from the district attorney explaining the situation. In some states, you can request an Identity Theft Passport that may help if you are detained because a criminal steals your identity.

Booking photo of Zin Mali McDade

 

Whatever happened to Zin Mali McDade (alias Jonah Scott Miller)? He currently resides at the Brevard County Jail in Cocoa, FL.

~~~

TKZers: Have you ever been the victim of mistaken or stolen identity? Would you obtain an Identity Theft Passport?

True Crime Thursday – Follow the Money

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Jake Blucker – Unsplash

When Alvin Schottenstein died in 1984, employees of Schottenstein Department Stores wept, describing their boss as kind and compassionate. Alvin and his brothers had built the Columbus, OH retail business, started by his father in 1917, into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate.

Alvin was well known as a dedicated family man who said: “The time I get to spend with my grandchildren is the greatest time of my life.” (7/8/84 Columbus Dispatch article)

Almost four decades later, Alvin’s widow Beverley, now 94, sued two of those grandsons, Evan and Avi Schottenstein, along with J.P. Morgan Securities, in an elder fraud case. Her claims included financial fraud, abuse of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions.

Beverley is the matriarch of the Scottenstein empire whose holdings include American Eagle Outfitters, American Signature Furniture, DSW, and others. In 2015, the Schottenstein family was named #100 of the richest families in America by Forbes.

But…money does not guarantee happiness.

In 2014, Beverley’s grandsons Evan and Avi were employed by J.P. Morgan as brokers. During their five-year tenure handling her account, they made hundreds of stock trades, reportedly earning millions in commissions. But, despite Beverley’s many requests for information, they refused to tell her details of the transactions, stating only that they were doing well for her.

According to Bloomberg News, while the grandsons were supposedly growing her investments, Evan would challenge Beverley over charges she made with her own credit cards, which he evidently monitored. He criticized her for patronizing a non-Kosher restaurant and scolded her for watching TV on Shabbat.

Beverley’s son (Evan and Ari’s father) lives a few floors below Beverley in the same condominium building in Bal Harbour, FL, putting the grandsons in convenient proximity to her.

Evan reportedly entered Beverley’s home unannounced and shredded documents relating to J.P. Morgan. Charges appeared on her credit card statements that Beverley had not made. Her seven-million-dollar diamond engagement ring disappeared from a safe deposit box to which one grandson had a key. A check to her caregiver bounced because the bank had frozen her account.

What happened to the money her grandsons were handling for her?  

After several years of suspicions and unanswered questions, Beverley insisted they had to consult her before making trades on her account. Her banking, credit card, and stock statements from J.P. Morgan mysteriously stopped being mailed to her.

Despite a phone conversation with J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Beverley’s requests for reports and proper accounting were ignored.

In 2019, she’d had enough and consulted a lawyer. After an audit of her finances, an accountant concluded: “It appears that Ms. Schottenstein’s broker sold her these risky, illiquid products without regard for her financial wellbeing to generate extraordinary income for him and for his employer.” 

The unauthorized buying and selling of securities amounted to more than $400 million.

Assisted by her granddaughter Cathy Schottenstein (cousin to Evan and Avi), Beverley sought help from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) because “retail investors can’t take their brokers to court.” (Source: NextAvenue.org)

Shortly before the case was filed in 2019, J.P. Morgan terminated Evan and Avi. According to the FINRA letter of acceptance, waiver, and consent, Evan Schottenstein was “[d]ischarged” and provided a termination explanation stating, “[c]oncerns relating to trading activity for the account of a family member, and the accuracy of the records regarding the same.”

After arbitration, in February 2021, FINRA found J.P. Morgan and Evan liable for elder abuse according to Florida statutes.

FINRA awarded Beverley $19 million, ordering “J.P. Morgan to pay $8.9 million, Evan Schottenstein to pay $9 million as the chief beneficiary of the scheme, and Avi Schottenstein to pay $620,000. They were also ordered to pay legal fees and Finra hearing costs.” (Source: fa-mag.com)

Beverley’s granddaughter Cathy Schottenstein has written a soon-to-be-published memoir entitled Twisted, chronicling her grandmother’s ordeal.

This determined nonagenarian didn’t allow herself to be victimized by her own flesh and blood and refused to give up against one of America’s largest banks.

Beverley followed the money. Unfortunately it led to the discovery of family betrayal that would have devastated Alvin Schottenstein, Evan’s and Avi’s doting grandfather.

~~~

Thanks to Ann Minnett for alerting me to this case.

~~~

 

 

A glamorous predator zeros in on an aging millionaire until investigator Tawny Lindholm interferes. Then elder fraud turns deadly in Debbie Burke’s thriller, Stalking Midas

Buy links: Amazon     Major online booksellers

True Crime Thursday – Smuggling Contraband into Prison by Drone

 

Photo credit: Kal Visuals-Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

So, you’re back on the street after doing time in the federal pen in Fort Dix, New Jersey. You want to earn a little extra income, presumably to pay your defense attorney, and to supply your buddies who are still inside. Nothing big, just cigarettes, cell phones, heroin, and fentanyl.

Why not use a drone to deliver packages—just like Amazon?   

Jason Ateaga-Loayza, AKA “Juice”, must have thought that was a good business plan even though he was on supervised release from Fort Dix, a low-security federal correctional facility.

Between October 2018 and June 2019, Juice and several co-conspirators smuggled contraband by drone into the prison. Juice communicated by cell phone texts with an accomplice who was still incarcerated. The accomplice took orders from inmates and collected payments. Juice gathered the requested items and stored them in his home. Then he and other accomplices hid in the woods surrounding Fort Dix and operated a drone from there, dropping packages inside the prison at night. They taped over the lights on the drone to prevent detection.

Evidently the operation succeeded for a while…until FBI agents searched Juice’s home. Officers turned up a closetful of empty cell phone boxes and tobacco containers matching items that had previously been dropped inside the prison. They also found enough heroin and fentanyl to charge him with possession with intent to distribute.

In April, 2021, Juice pleaded guilty to several charges and is scheduled for sentencing in September, 2021.

His high-flying entrepreneurial venture has been grounded.

~~~

 

 

Bad guys use a drone to surveil the good guys in Debbie Burke’s thriller Eyes in the Sky

Buy at Amazon or major online retailers. 

Crime or Not?

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

On March 20, an unidentified man rode a horse into the Town Pump convenience store in Bozeman, Montana.

I’m not sure if this constitutes a crime. After all, in Montana, it’s not unheard of to ride a horse into a bar and sometimes even a hotel lobby.

There is also the fuzzy legal question of whether or not DUI laws apply to horseback riding. The Montana code reads:

61-8-401 states that it is unlawful for any person to operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, intoxicants or any combination thereof with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or greater.

One can argue the law doesn’t apply because the horse is not a motor vehicle. Also, the horse is quite likely to get the intoxicated rider home safely. So, ensuring public safety seems to come down on the side of Ole Dobbin.

That raises another question: if this rider is sober, what crime, if any, should he be charged with? Trespassing? Misdemeanor showing off?

What do you think, TKZers? Should this prank be considered a crime? If so, what’s the charge? 

True Crime Thursday – Motorized Surfboard Fraud

Photo credit: Brent Storm – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Cowabunga! was a popular exclamation by surfers in the 1960s. An earlier iteration, kawabunga, was coined on “The Howdy-Doody Show” in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the Ninja Turtles revived cowabunga’s popularity.

In 2016, Roberto Clark, 50, of Palm Bay, Florida, had a concept for motorized surfboards he called “Jetboards” that apparently caused some investors to holler “Cowabunga!”

Between 2016 and 2019, Clark convinced people he met in bars, restaurants, and adult entertainment establishments in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. to invest in his company, KRM Services. KRM was supposed to manufacture Jetboards to be sold at big profits to cruise lines and water sports companies. Clark had a patent, purchase orders, and signed, notarized contracts to prove substantial buyer interest. He collected more than $350,000 from 14 investors.

Only one problem: he never manufactured any Jetboards.

The patent, purchase orders, and buyer contracts were falsified.

Investors’ money went, not to build Jetboards, but to finance Clark’s luxurious lifestyle. According to court filings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he spent: “at least $41,000 to restaurants and bars; at least $19,000 to hotels; at least $15,000 to family members; at least $8,000 to department and clothing stores; at least $5,000 to convenience and gas stores; at least $3,000 to grocery and liquor stores; at least $1,000 to gyms; at least $1,500 to spas and beauty salons; at least $1,000 to pet stores and groomers; and at least $200 to a bail bondsman.

That last expense might have been incurred in March, 2018, when the Fairfax County Police Department arrested Clark.

Yet he brazenly continued to solicit more investors as late as 2019. When suspicious victims demanded return of their money, Clark paid some of them…with checks that bounced.

Photo credit: Kurt Anderson – Unsplash

The Jetboard scam wiped out once and for all in January, 2021, when Clark was found guilty of multiple charges including securities fraud. He was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $400,000.

Here’s hoping his victims were compensated and hollered, “Cowabunga!”

~~~

No TKZer would ever invest in a company whose owner they met in a bar or adult establishment, right? Do you know anyone who has?

~~~

 

 

 

If you invest in Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever, she absolutely guarantees she will yell: “Cowabunga!” Please check it out at this link.

True Crime Thursday – COVID 19 Scams

Photo credit: Mika Baumeister – unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_twitter

The pandemic has provided new opportunities to enrich scammers. For today’s True Crime Thursday, I’m highlighting two popular schemes that thieves developed to profit from COVID 19.

First scheme: Economic Impact Payments. 

Your phone rings and caller ID says it’s the IRS.

Gulp! Your heart speeds up.

The caller claims to be an IRS agent. He or she sounds authoritative and convincing, offering a name (fake) and ID badge number (also fake). They may even already know some personal information about you.

They claim you owe the IRS money and demand you make immediate payment.

But, being compassionate, understanding folks, they offer several options they’ll accept for payment–such as a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer…

Or

You can sign over your economic stimulus payment check and send it to them, endorsing it as “payment for past debts.”

If you don’t comply, the formerly compassionate, understanding caller becomes aggressive and threatens you with arrest.

Variation: They claim you’re owed a refund but they need personal information before they send it to you.

Reality: Scammers can easily spoof the supposed IRS number. They often impersonate IRS agents, law enforcement, or other officials to intimidate their targeted victim. 

The IRS may call you but their first contact is generally by mail.

They do not demand payment by pre-paid debit cards. They do not request credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If the caller becomes abusive, the IRS advises you to hang up immediately.

Variation: phishing by email or text – You receive an email, text, or message through social media, claiming to be from the IRS. The sender address appears similar to IRS.gov but may be IRSgov (no dot).

It claims you need to update your information or that you’re owed a refund. It instructs you to click on a link that takes you to an official-appearing IRS site. There, you are prompted to enter personal information like Social Security number, bank accounts, PINs, etc.

Reality: The IRS will never contact you by text or social media. They do however use email to contact you. Always study the sender’s address carefully.

If you click on a phony link and answer the questions, thieves have your personal information. They can then file fraudulent tax returns to obtain refunds.

Even worse, clicking on the link may install malware that gives criminals access to your computer where they can steal sensitive information like passwords.

If you have doubts that a call or email is legitimate, the IRS advises you contact them directly through the IRS.gov website.

Here’s a link to IRS scam warnings: https://www.irs.gov/compliance/criminal-investigation/irs-warns-about-covid-19-economic-impact-payment-fraud

Another wrinkle in economic stimulus payments is causing confusion. Your second payment may come in a different form than your first payment did.

The first payment may have been direct-deposited into your bank account or you might have received a check from U.S. Treasury.

But the second payment may arrive by mail as a VISA debit card. Because the envelope does not look like the typical IRS check, many people think it’s advertising or a solicitation and toss it.

Here’s what it looks like (click to enlarge):

The return address on the envelope has a Dept. of Treasury logo and says Economic Impact Payment Card from a P.O. Box in Omaha, NE.

Even though it looks peculiar, the VISA card is valid. 

~~~

Second scheme: Vaccine scams

You receive a phone call from the Social Security Administration or Pfizer, the drug company manufacturing COVID 19 vaccines.

At least that’s what Caller ID says.

The caller invites you to sign up to receive the vaccine.You only need to give them your Social Security number, Medicare number, bank account, and credit card information.

Further, the caller claims you can be placed higher on the priority list to receive the vaccine if you pay a fee.

Reality: According to attorney Steve Weisman in a recent Saturday Evening Post article

“The truth is that the Social Security Administration is not calling anyone about getting the vaccine, and no one is being asked to pay a fee to be put on a priority list to receive the vaccine. This is just a scam to get your personal information and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.”

Vaccine scammers also employ email messages and texts, like those described above by the IRS, to trick the recipient into clicking on malicious links.

~~~

Yes, in fact, there is a special list that gives preferential attention to seniors. Unfortunately, it’s the Scammers’ Roster of Favorite Prey.

Please watch out for vulnerable friends and family who might be on that most-favored list.

~~~

TKZers: Have you been contacted by someone impersonating the IRS, Social Security Administration, or a drug manufacturer?

Do you know anyone who’s been defrauded by COVID 19 scams? Please share that experience.

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever features a pair of plucky senior outlaws on the lam. Please check out the book here.

 

True Crime Thursday – How Not to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: TheKohser CC by SA-3

Happy Thanksgiving!

In case you haven’t yet put your turkey in the oven, here are a couple of new variations on cooking poultry—one legal, one illegal.

The legal technique:

Instant pots are the current go-to appliance for many meals but I hadn’t thought about trying to cram a turkey into one. According to this blog, apparently, it is doable.

Since today is True Crime Thursday, I’m compelled to also include the illegal technique:

This case involves chickens rather than turkeys. But I suspect, if enough alcohol is involved, someone will eventually try this with the larger bird.

Last August, Eric Romriell and Eric Roberts, both of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Dallas Roberts, of West Valley City, Utah, visited Yellowstone National Park. The three men are in their forties and fifties. Romriell is an ophthalmologist.

Photo credit: Clarence Alford-Pixabay

While there, they decided to cook dinner…by boiling two chickens in the hot springs at Shoshone Geyser Basin.

They were observed carrying cooking pots to a remote location. There, they put two whole raw chickens into a burlap sack and lowered them into the steaming water.

A park ranger responded to the location. When asked what their intention was, Eric Roberts answered, “Make dinner.”

The ranger probed further and inquired which one had come up with this idea. Roberts answered, “It was kind of joint thing.”

Hmm.

The article didn’t say but one guess is the “joint” idea was cooked up with the help of an unidentified adult beverage.

Earlier this November, the judge ordered fines of $540 and $1250 and banned the three would-be chefs from Yellowstone for two years.

No report what happened to the chicken dinner.

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TKZers, what are your favorite culinary tips for Thanksgiving?

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Today—and every day—I give thanks for the energetic, talented, and encouraging TKZ community. You make writing fun and I’m constantly learning.

Wishing everyone in the TKZ family a healthy and happy Thanksgiving!