Scam season returns, police warn

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Nov 8, 2007 - With Halloween past and Thanksgiving just weeks away, ‘tis definitely the season — of busy children, parents and business people, full schedules and plentiful spending.

It’s also the season when shady people try to take advantage of others’ desires for more money to make gift-giving and regular budgets stretch just a bit further.

Whether you usher in the holidays with “fa, la, las” or a stern “bah, humbug” could hinge largely on your consumer savvy. A bit of caution can forestall those Ebenezers who hope to line their pocketbooks by preying on others’ need of “something for nothing.”

�If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,� police have warned time and again, and this week again remind local residents as scammers begin their cons.

City officers warn citizens not to give out their personal information to anyone unsolicited, whether it be someone calling on the phone, contacting you by e-mail, written letter or in person. If you don’t know the person requesting information or offering lots of money for nothing or very little, be skeptical. Get the contact information of their organization, compare that with known numbers, then make the phone call to verify the person contacting you is who they claim to be.

A number of local scams are already in play locally, the most recent one a letter claiming to offer $175,000 in lottery winnings to be distributed in increments. A local man received such a letter, along with a $2,750 check written as if from an “Office Depot” account at a Minnesota bank. The funds are to be deposited in the recipient’s account then returned upon contacting a number listed to cover taxes and fees with the winnings. The recipient had the presence of mind to contact the Minnesota bank listed on the check. While the bank is a real bank, the representative said the check was not for a valid account and advised the person to take the “check” to local authorities to report a scam.

Had the person deposited the check and returned it, the person sending the letter would have had access to the person’s bank account as well as other personal information which likely would then be used illegally, police said.

They also warn residents not to respond or be taken in by letters from someone claiming to offer a large sum as a reward to get money into the U.S. following the death of a loved one overseas. That, too, is a scam designed to access bank and personal information.

If approached in person by someone with a large sum of cash, offering to share a portion of it (regardless of their excuse for having it) in exchange for depositing it, don’t agree. The person is likely attempting to pull a scam known as a “pigeon drop.” Often, the person has fake money or less than they appear to have and again are attempting to fleece the person approached of their hard-earned cash.

If someone claiming to be from a bank or other financial institution calls you at home asking for verification about or to discuss an issue regarding your account unsolicited, or sends ad e-mail to that affect, don’t give them any information. Err on the side of caution, get a contact number, name and ID information on the caller, then call your financial institution at the number you recognize and verify the authenticity or lack thereof of the caller or individual who sent the e-mail. There’s a good chance these people too are “phishing” for your information to use for nefarious purposes.

Also, if someone claiming to represent a help organization or public safety group calls, they’re probably not authentic. Most of these agencies do not solicit donations by phone. Those who do host fund drives for their purposes generally do so at annual established events which residents recognize and generally are alerted of through local press and media sources, regarding the whos, whens and what-fors. Those wanting to make a donation should contact the local branch of that group to directly make arrangements to donate, officials recommend. 

Most important of all, do not give out your personal information to unsolicited callers, e-mailers or groups. Remember: Be skeptical; always check them out; and follow the age-old adage “nothing in life is for free” and “if it sounds too good to be true” — no matter how tempting and sweet the offer — “it usually is,” police warn.

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