A few years ago, a Gardnerville woman was scammed out of $500 when she thought she was responding to a grandchild in distress.
She was the victim of a trumped up story in which the caller impersonated a lawyer who said that her grandson had been arrested in Canada and needed $500.
She followed directions to wire the money to a Niagara Falls address in Canada, and never told anyone.
Several weeks later, her son discovered the loss when he was reviewing her financial records.
Douglas Sgt. Pat Brooks knew the victim very well - it was his mother.
The caller had directed her not to tell anyone because her "grandson" was upset and didn't want his dad to know.
Needless to say, her grandson wasn't in trouble and hadn't been to Canada. The money was never recovered.
On Thursday, Brooks reviewed a handful of similar reports that have crossed his desk in the past few months.
"It just seems like these cases are more and more prevalent. There are so many different scams, you can't identify all of them, and they all end up with victims losing money," he said. "And these are just the ones being reported."
Because most victims end up sending money out of state, chances of recovery are slim to none.
Brooks said the best protection is to be aware of the scams, and never give out personal information. In the case of "grandchild in trouble call," Brooks said check with the family first before making any arrangements.
With the proliferation of information on the Internet, Brooks said a skilled scammer has access to all kinds of personal information about potential victims to make their lies more believable.
Residents are becoming wise to the ruse.
In recent weeks, a Douglas County man failed to fall for a request for $2,500 which would earn the victim a $1 million check.
Another resident was promised a new Mercedes and $50,000 if he sent $799 to a Western Union address.
The callers are relentless, often contacting potential victims a dozen times.
"Although the scammers leave return phone numbers, they're usually throw-away phones, go straight to answering machines, or are disconnected," Brooks said.
A Genoa resident ended up giving out credit card information to someone posing as an Internet provider who said he'd received error messages from the victim's computer and needed to repair it.
The victim said he thought the call was suspicious but the person was "very convincing."
The man's credit card was charged $118.68, and with access to the computer, the scammer deleted files and installed software.
The victim was advised by DCSO to report the fraud to IC3.gov, a FBI web site for Internet crimes
Investigators traced the company to Singapore.
As recently as Wednesday, a woman reported receiving a postcard in the mail inviting her to claim $100 for a $3.95 service charge. She called the number, and ended up revealing her debit card number in order to claim her prize.
She became suspicious when the caller told her she would receive $600 for an additional $59.
The woman hung up, canceled her debit card, and contacted the sheriff's office.
"These scammers usually have the 'gift of gab,' and never ask for too much money. People are more likely to hand over $500 than $5,000," Brooks said.
Brooks emphasized that legitimate businesses and agencies never ask for personal information over the phone, and "if it's too good to be true, it usually is."
He directed residents to Nevada Fight Fraud, operated by the Nevada Department of Business and Industry.
"It saddens me in today's times when money is hard to come by. It's the season of giving, and people want to try to help out," he said.
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