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By Erin Smith

The Christmas season is the time for scammers to strike unsuspecting citizens. In North Carolina, there are reports of scam victims being asked to purchase gift cards to pay “fees” and “fines” for late bills, tax bills or legal issues. You can take steps to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Bladen County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Larry Guyton said the Sheriff’s Office has received several phone calls about an IRS scam. The way it works is a scammer calls the victim posing as an IRS official and demands immediate payment of an alleged tax bill with a credit or debit card.

“The IRS is never going to do that,” said Chief Deputy Guyton.

He said the investigation so far, shows the calls are coming from outside of North Carolina.

Another scam making the rounds in North Carolina is one where the victim is contacted by someone posing as local law enforcement and stating the victim has an outstanding warrant or the victim has missed jury duty. The victim is then instructed to purchase gift cards from retail stores to pay the “fine,” according to reports.

WRAL reported last week that a Raleigh couple lost $6,000 to the gift card scam. In this case, the scammer claimed the woman had missed jury duty. The woman was instructed to pay her “fine”  with gift cards.

“We have not had any complaints regarding that (scam),” said Chief Deputy Guyton.

He offered some advice for residents on how to prevent themselves from becoming a scam victim.

“No IRS, Sheriff’s Office, or Court official is going to call or threaten people over the phone to pay a fine or debt with a credit or debit card or other means,” said Chief Deputy Guyton.

He explained that no financial transactions are performed over the phone involving court costs, fines or fees, or tax debts. Chief Deputy Guyton said if you have a pending matter you will receive a notice from the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office or the Bladen County Clerk of Court.

Chief Deputy Guyton advised anyone who receives a call from anyone claiming to be a law enforcement official and threatening to arrest you if you don’t send money, try to get a call back number and as much information from the scammer as you can and then hang up. Call your local law enforcement agency and report it.

The NC Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division advises to never give out personal information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers or other personal information over the phone.