November 9, 2012

Scam Warning and Ways to Protect Yourself

In the last few months, SCPD has seen an increased number of scam calls.  These scams have targeted everyone from students to seniors, and take a number of different forms.  This is a brief overview of some of the more common scams that we’ve seen.  Hopefully, this will help you avoid becoming a victim if you happen to get targeted by a scammer.  Keep in mind that scams are always evolving, and you might experience something not listed here.  If you feel you might be involved in a scam, don’t send any money or give any personal information until you have verified the legitimacy of the situation.  You can always call SCPD (just dial 911) for help if you are not sure.

Online rental scam:

In these situations, the victim will find a rental property online (whether long-term or vacation) that they are interested in renting.  They will contact the person that posted the listing and start the process of renting the property.  It’s only after the victim has sent money will they begin to realize that the person does not actually own the property.  To prevent becoming a victim of a scam like this, schedule a walk through of the property before you rent it.  Make sure that the owner (or an agent) meets you at the property, has a key to it, and can verify who they are.  Even if they email you identification, you can’t be sure that they are actually the same person.  If possible, always pay by check so you have a period of time to stop payment if you realize that something is amiss.

Online purchase scam:

These scams take many different forms, but usually begin with the victim selling an item or a service (such as babysitting) online.  The scammer will contact the victim and claim to be interested in the item/service they are offering.  The scammer will then agree to pay the victim, but will send a check or money order for more money than was agreed upon.  They will then tell the victim that they accidentally sent too much money, and ask that the victim send the extra back in the form of cash, a wire transfer, or a money order.  Unbeknownst to the victim, the original check/money order sent from the scammer is not real, and they now have lost the “extra” that they sent back.  To avoid these scams, make sure that the amount of money sent is the amount that you agreed upon, and wait for the check to clear before actually sending any goods to the buyer.

“You’re in trouble” scam:

These scams usually begin with the victim receiving a phone call from the scammer.  The scammer will claim to either be a lawyer or a law enforcement official (US Marshall, FBI, etc.)  The scammer will tell the victim that they either owe money to collections or have a warrant for their arrest.  They will claim that people are on the way to the victim’s house to arrest them, but this can be avoided if they send money to the lawyer/law enforcement official.  The scammer will ask the victim to go to either a bank or “Money Gram” transfer center to electronically wire money.  The scammer will usually be able to provide some details about the victim, which can convince the victim that this is legitimate.  They might also provide a phone number to call, which will have an answering service saying “US Marshall’s Office” or something similar.  They might even give you their “badge number,” which will be phony.  No law enforcement agency will call you and demand immediate money to prevent arrest.  Any lawyer or attorney will send hard-copy correspondence that can be verified.  If you fear someone might actually be coming to your house, call 911.

“It’s your grandson” scam:

This is a scam that preys upon a person’s desire to help a family member.  The victim will receive a phone call from a person claiming to be a family member (usually a grandson) or a lawyer for that family member.  They will claim that they have been in a traffic accident, have been injured, or have accidentally damaged someone else’s property and need money for medical bills or to post bail.  They will say to not call anyone else about this because they are embarrassed.  They will then ask the victim to wire money to a specific person so that they can be released.  Even if the voice on the phone sounds different than the family member, they will say that they broke their nose or something similar to explain the difference.  To avoid being a victim of this scam, hang up and call the phone number that you have for the family member or for their wife/husband.  Don’t use any phone number given to you by the scammer.  Don’t send any money unless you verify that the request is indeed legitimate.

“Your computer has a virus” scam:

This scam will try to convince you that your computer has a virus, when it does not.  The victim will receive a call or email from someone claiming to be from “Microsoft,” “Apple,” “Windows,” or some virus protection company.  They will say that your computer has been infected with a virus.  They will have you logon to your computer and will give you a series of directions to show you the “virus.”  Many times, this will show standard computer processes that might appear to be viruses but are actually not.  At that point, they will tell you that they can clean the computer for a fee, or they will ask you to download a software program that will let them access your computer from a remote location.  At that point, they will “clean” the computer for you.  In reality, they are either stealing your data, or are not doing anything and merely making you pay for an illusion.  No legitimate company will call you and tell you that your computer is infected with a virus.  Never download a piece of software that you do not trust, especially if it’s in response to a phone call or email from a stranger.  If you are not sure whether or not this is legitimate, end the conversation and contact someone you trust that has knowledge of computers.  They will be able to confirm if there is in fact a virus.