State officials are warning Alaskans to be especially careful about phone and online scams, which have recently become far more personalized against their targets.

Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth’s office said in a statement this week that the scams include a February incident, in which scammers falsely told an Anchorage man his wife had been kidnapped, ransoming her for the couple’s life savings. The man told KTVA he believed the scam in large part because the calls appeared to be made from his wife’s phone – a tactic experts say can be circumvented by texting the person allegedly being held.

“The key to this and many other scams is the ability of the fraudsters to ‘spoof’ numbers on caller IDs with computer software,” officials wrote. “This made the number look like the call was coming from the ‘kidnapped’ family member’s phone, convincing the victim that the story was true. After emptying banks accounts to pay for ransom, it turned out that the family member was safe all along.”

Another Alaskan recently lost $4,000 to a personalized version of a “grandparent scam,” in which someone poses as an elderly victim’s grandchild and urgently asks for money due to a desperate situation happening too fast to be confirmed.

“The new twist on the scam is that the grandparent in Alaska needed her grandson to be a pallbearer at a family funeral,” officials wrote. “The scammer used information easily available online to personalize the scam, calling at a critical time when the victim was likely to upset and easily confused or tricked into acting without checking.”

People should also watch for scammers using online information about real-estate transactions to ask that funds for a home’s closing costs be redirected, or claiming that the IRS is demanding income-tax payments via suspicious means like prepaid debit cards. Victims should contact the alleged source of the demands directly to verify them.

Even the so-called “Nigerian scam,” in which people are offered phony checks or large sums of money if they confirm their bank accounts by wiring a smaller amount to the scammers, has found new life in emails sent to nurses and health-care practitioners thanking them for excellent treatment at medical facilities.

“The increasing availability of personal information on the internet has facilitated more creativity in scammers attempts to separate Alaskans from their money,” officials wrote. “Be wary of any call or email that urges you to send money immediately and without recourse, by wire or cash. Never buy gift cards to pay government debts, fees or bills. The State of Alaska will never ask you to pay the state using gift cards or money cards.”

Fraud can be reported to the state Consumer Protection Unit’s website.

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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