“Awareness (of how those things work) is the best way to stop crime and protect yourself,” Sgt. Warren said near the outset of her 87-minute presentation, which included handing out written details of the crimes, and a lengthy question-and-answer session.
In her approximately 14 years in law enforcement, she said, much of her time has been spent investigating these types of offenses, and she herself recently became a target when the debit card she used at a large American chain store was “compromised” and used to purchase a $500 shirt in Czechoslovakia.
In discussing “scams,” which she says she sees here in Gilmer, she first cited the “Foreign Business Scam,” in which someone from another nation solicits the target for American dollars, mentioning business opportunities and job opportunities.
Even if the solicitor has a 903 area code (which is used for this area), he or she may be a foreigner who ends up with information on you, she warned.
Her handout sheet noted that scam artists in these cases ask someone to transfer a fortune from their country to the American’s bank account for safekeeping. The person says he/she got the money illegally and thus “can’t go through normal channels.”
Pretending to be business people or government officials, the solicitor asks the American to invest in a partnership. The scam artist then sends the American a counterfeit check or money order as an “advance” on the millions the American will supposedly receive, and asks the target “to send cash back for legal services, bonding, or other expenses. That is not how any legitimate deal works,” the handout sheet warned.
“We can’t touch them (these scam artists) here in the United States” due to lack of jurisdictional authority, and many scams originate in Nigeria, she warned. She told the audience to be wary of callers with foreign accents, or whose “syntax is a little odd” (such as getting two words in the wrong order).
Also beware of what “sounds too good to be true,” and of being asked to pay to secure a prize you’ve supposedly won, the detective cautioned.
Sgt. Warren also explained the “Love Losses Scam,” in which a person claims to have a medical emergency or some other problem in a foreign country, and asks the target to help by cashing a check or money order to cover the e-mailer’s travel expenses to come to the United States.
Whoever cashes a phony check will be responsible for it.
As a hypothetical example of this scam, Sgt. Warren said someone might get an email saying, “Uncle Bob, this is Aaron, your nephew,” and explaining that Aaron’s car has broken down in Los Angeles. The email asks Bob to send a Moneygram—but when the uncle calls Aaron, Bob learns his nephew didn’t send it.
“At least call and check out the story before you send money,” Sgt. Warren urged. The con artist can put enough information in email to make you think it’s someone you know, she explained.
Another scheme is the “overpayment scam,” which targets people who are selling something on the Internet. The buyer sends or gives a check or money order for more than the purchase price, and asks you “send the extra to someone who will take care of shipping,” the handout sheet warned.
The schemer says a check or money order payment will come from someone who owes them, and tells you to deduct your share and send them the rest. Maybe they are in a foreign country and claim that “because of currency differences it’s difficult to pay you directly.”
Or “they claim they sent you the wrong amount ‘by mistake’ and ask you to return the excess.”
In this particular scam, Sgt. Warren said, the buyer may say he/she will pay you $300 more than the purchase price, and that you can cash the money order. Then, she said, the bank calls and tells you it’s counterfeit.
Another scam she discussed, “rental schemes,” is similar to the overpayment one, she said. Again, the criminal sends you more than owed, asking the excess be sent to them or someone else.
The handout sheet showed rental schemes involve claiming to be moving from outside the area or even another nation. A check or money order is sent, supposedly “for rent, plus extra to cover shipping expenses for their belongings.”
The scam artist claims to have “unexpected expenses,” asks you to cash a check or money order, then return some of the deposit as a favor. “But they never intend to move in. By the time you discover the scheme they have already moved on to their next victim,” the document warned.
The check or money order for a vacation rental includes extra to rent a car, and the recipient is asked to send the extra to someone who will make the car rental arrangements.
Yet another hoax, Sgt. Warren said, is the “sudden riches scam,” in which the actor is “preying on your greed.”
“They’re very believable and they’re very nice,” she cautioned. They mail you that you have won $10,000 or a cruise—and when you call in about it, you are told to send the taxes on it.
“If they’re telling you to mail them money to collect your prize—no. There’s something wrong,” Sgt. Warren said.
Elaborating on this, the handout sheet says the scam artist uses the name of a well-known sweepstakes company, and the document counsels getting the company’s phone number from directory assistance and calling that firm directly to verify.
The sheet also warned that if you’re told you won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, “that’s impossible unless you traveled to that country to enter. It is illegal to buy or sell tickets across the U.S. border.”
Another scheme, the “work-at-home scam,” involves such supposed work as being a “mystery shopper,” stuffing envelopes, or doing medical transcription, Sgt. Warren said. “Before you know it, you’re out a bunch of money,” she said.
She said that anyone with a question about the legitimacy of a business or organization should call the Better Business Bureau or visit the police station, located across Harrison St. from the senior citizens’ meeting place.
“I would say if your gut is telling you it’s bad, it’s probably bad,” Detective Warren added.
She also explained the old “pigeon drop scam,” saying it usually occurs between 6 and 8 a.m. when senior citizens go to certain large businesses in the community. An older mature woman is the scam artist, and will say “Did you see that man drop that wallet?”
A wallet on the ground will have a wad of money, which she displays. She will then convince the senior citizen that she just happens to have an appointment with her attorney nearby, and “y’all could figure out a legal way to keep this money,” Sgt. Warren explained.
After having the victim supposedly take her to her lawyer, she comes back out and quotes him as saying she and the victim can keep it if they pay $2,500 taxes, and that she has $1,000. She then has you take her to a bank and comes out with money before having you supposedly take her back to her lawyer—where she disappears with all the money.
“A lot of very smart people have fallen for that,” Sgt. Warren noted.
She also warned about driveway paving and roof repair scams.
In the paving hoax, she said, the scam artist shows up with equipment, claiming to have extra asphalt left over from another job and offering to pave the driveway for only $65-$70. But afterward, he claims it took more tar and work than he thought and wants $400, she said.
Explaining how the victim might feel pressured to pay, Sgt. Warren said humorously he or she might face two men standing there “that just look like they ate Arnold Schwarzenegger for lunch.”
The scam artist will immediately cash your check—and all he did was put gravel on the driveway, she pointed out.
If any such business offer is “unsolicited. . .consider them not legitimate,” the detective warned.
The roof repair scheme (two cases of which have been reported recently in Gilmer) can involve a person claiming they saw a squirrel on someone’s roof, and noting the animals can do damage. They will show “evidence of work they’ve done,” Sgt. Warren added.
An 89-year-old woman in the Upshur Senior Citizens audience detailed how she had been victimized by this scam. The actor had initially said he wouldn’t charge her to get rid of the squirrels, but came down with a wad of wet insulation and claimed “there’s a hole up there, too,” in the roof.
He said he had chased the squirrel away, but that he had to pay for material he used around the roof. Meantime, another man was sitting out in a car.
“He actually asked for $1,500,” the woman said. She said no. He seemed like “someone you would be proud to call your kid,” and she paid him something as “it was too hard to get rid of him.”
Another elderly woman in the audience said a man attempted to pull a similar scam on her and that she turned him down by telling him, “My son’s on his way.”
Sgt. Warren said another scheme used in Gilmer involved someone calling a local business, pretending to be the local power company, and threatening to shut off power unless the firm paid part of its supposed bill.
After the business sent a money order, she said, the person called again and made a threat. This time, the business called the power company, Sgt. Warren said.
Yet another hoax she cited is a caller claiming to be the police, telling the target there is a warrant for them, and that they must pay up or be arrested. She said to call the police department at 903-843-5547 to verify any such claim.
In addition, she noted Gilmer has a city ordinance against panhandling.
Sgt. Warren said scam artists target an older person who is alone, and “the common denominator in all these scams is they come to you. . . Very rarely are you going to contact a scam artist.”
She said she had told a certain widow to tell such people, “Let me go in and ask my husband.”
Sgt. Warren also cited a handout sheet that had these tips to avoid being the victim of a scam:
• Don’t speak to or correspond with international or unfamilar companies.
• Don’t sign documents unless a lawyer or trusted family member or friend reviews them first.
• Don’t “agree to pay any money to a person or company in exchange for a larger amount of money.”
• Don’t speak to or correspond with anyone who claims you’ve won a cash prize in a contest you didn’t enter.
• Don’t let unsolicited persons into your home to make repairs.
• If approached by someone claiming to have found lost money and that person asks you to drive him/her to an attorney’s office “to secure a legal means of keeping the money,” don’t let them get in your car. Call police immediately.
Turning her attention to the issue of identity theft, Detective Warren said that normally occurs when someone gets your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. (They can also steal your credit card number.) And “you guys (senior citizens) are really, really targets for these type of thieves,” the officer said.
“They will start applying for lines of credit in your name,” having cards mailed to a post office box or “mail drop,” she said. And they can “buy cars in your name” before disappearing, causing liens to be put on your property, she continued.
Another form of ID theft involves the person showing up at a hospital emergency room for treatment they can’t afford, perhaps using a fake ID— “and you’ll find out you’ve got $25,000 of medical bills” because it’s hard to prove it wasn’t you, Sgt. Warren noted.
Still another potential consequence of identity theft is that the thief armed with a fake ID may get traffic tickets, resulting in warrants for your arrest, she added.
Giving a humorous example of how the innocent victim might react, she said they could protest “I’ve never been to Kentucky. I’ve never strangled a cat.” But, she said after the meeting, it may take more than claiming it’s not you to clear the matter up.
“This (ID theft) is a big deal, so when I tell you try to prevent it, try to prevent,” she urged, although she acknowledged that “you really cannot protect yourself 100 percent.”
She urged getting with your bank, or ID theft prevention companies like LifeLock, so those firms can contact companies if you become a victim.
Sgt. Warren also cautioned that identity thieves get information from your trash. In one case, a man got a credit card statement from someone’s garbage in an upper-class Dallas neighborhood, and spent the victim’s money after returning to Upshur County, the detective noted.
She urged getting a shredder that makes “confetti” (rather than strips) of such documents, or burning them. Shredded strips of documents can be put together, she warned.
The speaker also warned against throwing away old computers, saying information on their hard drives is retrievable. They should either be “torched,” taken to a disposal company, or have their hard drives cut up, Sgt. Warren said.
In addition, she said, don’t put personal information out in public by throwing away certain mail at the Post Office.
Furthermore, “you need to be monitoring your credit report,” Sgt. Warren said. She urged getting a free such report at least once yearly from www.freecreditreport.com.
She also urged checking with all three of the major credit agencies—Equifax, Experian, and Transunion—annually if you aren’t subscibing to a service like LifeLock. Those three agencies “don’t all share the same information,” she said. However, she warned that inquiries lower your credit rating.
If someone becomes the victim of ID theft, they should call police and contact the Federal Trade Commission by email, she said. That will “flag” your information, and they can contact you or the business if someone applies for a credit card in your name, Sgt. Warren said.
But while that creates a “roadblock,” she said, she warned that she wasn’t saying it’s “foolproof.”
“Hopefully, you’ll be prepared” for ID theft, “and there won’t be near as much damage when it’s done,” she told the audience. “It can ruin you financially.”