Sheriff’s office offers tips to avoid scammers
November 25, 2011
‘Tis the season of giving, but also the season for scamming, as evidenced by the number of fraud cases coming into the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
From phony lottery wins to desperate pleas from bogus relatives for bail money, residents are being targeted for thousands of dollars. A few victims, usually among the elderly, have fallen for the bait.
The most successful gambit recently appears to be the frantic phone call from someone purporting to be a grandchild or nephew who’s been arrested out of state or in Canada and needs bail money immediately.
In a recent case, the caller identified himself as the victim’s nephew who said he was in jail in Canada.
He said he had been in Canada for a wedding and was involved in a traffic accident. He further embellished the story by saying he’d taken a cold medication and had been charged with driving under the influence.
The suspect then turned the phone over to another man who said he was the “nephew’s” attorney. If the victim would send $997, her nephew would be released and wouldn’t have to return to Canada.
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Unfortunately, the woman believed the caller and wired the money to Canada. Including fees, she was out $1,062.
The phony attorney never called her back, so the woman called a relative and learned her nephew was in San Francisco. She was unable to cancel the money wire.
It’s a story that the sheriff’s office hears all too often.
“My advice is the grandparents, relatives, friends, whomever, should never give into the immediacy of the moment that the caller tries to put them into,” said Sgt. Jim Halsey. “They should ask for a call-back phone number for the jail or facility where the person is reportedly being held, and ask for the name and rank of the arresting officer.”
He recommended calling the relative directly or their parents or friends to verify if that person is in the area where they are supposedly in custody. That should be followed up by a call to the jail or facility in that jurisdiction.
Halsey said to request a supervisor other than the contact given by the caller to verify the validity of the story.
“Ask questions to verify the validity of the story: What is the criminal charge? Where did it occur? Was anyone else present with the grandchild at the time? What is the bail? Is it bail, or a fine?” he said.
Use of such Web sites at craigslist also add to fraudulent opportunities.
The sheriff’s office recently investigated a case where a Gardnerville woman was selling an antique bath tub and a woodstove on craigslist. She heard from one man who promised to send her the money. She received a letter via Fed Ex with a $2,450 check, well over the selling price.
Suspicious, the woman called a New Jersey video store listed on the check and spoke to the owner.
He told her someone hacked into his online Fed Ex account and several banks in the area had reported fraudulent attempts on his back account.
The Gardnerville woman took the check to her bank which advised her the check appeared to be fraudulent.
She said she never sent the items to the buyer, and the bank confiscated the phony check.
A final piece of advice from the sheriff’s office: If something appears too good to be true, it probably is.
HOW TO AVOID SCAMS
— Ask to speak to the family member. If denied, attempt to contact the relative or family member they are calling about to confirm their whereabouts.
— If the caller claims to be at a jail or police station, ask where and get the telephone number so you can call back. Confirm the phone number using the Internet or directory assistance before calling.
— Try to confirm the caller’s legitimacy by asking them for the full name, date of birth, Social Security number and city/state of birth of the detained family member. These are all standard booking questions.
— Advise the caller to confirm the relative’s detention by having them ask for unconventional information, for example, their elementary school, the street where they grew up, or the name of a family pet.
— Anyone who has been the victim of a scam is advised to contact the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office at 782-9935.