Several recent cases around the community have prompted Escalon Police to urge residents to tread with caution when contacted for cash. It’s nothing new, officials said, but there seems to have been a run on ‘scams’ in recent weeks.
“Earlier this month an elderly couple was conned into sending $2,930 to scammers,” explained Sgt. Anthony Hardgraves. “The scammer contacted the victims via telephone, pretending to be their grandson. He told the victims that he was stopped in Mexico by the ‘Federales’ (Mexican Federal Police). The con artist then told the victims that they needed to send the money to the suspect, via Western Union money transfer, so he could return home.”
The tactic worked, and the couple sent the cash even though they later learned it wasn’t their grandson calling at all.
“This incident is a sad story about a trend that is becoming all too popular, cyber criminals targeting the elderly,” Hardgraves added. “In today’s information age, a lot of personal information can be obtained online. More and more criminals are using today’s technology to their advantage. Unfortunately, protecting yourself against cyber criminals is not as easy as installing an alarm system or locking a door; it requires you to try and limit the amount of information that cyber criminals obtain and to recognize scams for what they are. The best defense against high tech crimes is knowledge.”
Hardgraves said there are many common scams that people have become aware of, including those referred to as the “Nigerian Scam” and the “Canadian Lottery Scam” where people are contacted and told they have either won a prize or are have been chosen to receive cash from a foreign country but first must pay fees in order to collect.
“Now scammers are using another method to commit their fraud; a means that doesn’t seem very high tech, but with new technology can be nearly impossible to trace, the telephone,” Hardgraves said. “The scams range from the aforementioned “Family in Trouble Scam” and “Collections Scams” where the suspect will have you send them money, to “Phishing Scams” where the suspects are just trying to collect sensitive data to use at a later time.”
Hardgraves offered this information on each specific type:
A Collection Scam is a scam where a subject will call you claiming to be with a collection agency. They will tell you that you have been sent to collections for a past due account that you did not open, although you may have an account with the company they claim to represent (phone service, power company, TV, etc.). They will often tell you that you owe several hundreds of dollars, but they will settle the claim for a fraction of the cost if you agree to pay that day. The usual mode of payment for these scams·are Green Dot MoneyPack cards. The scammer will instruct you to go to a store that sells the cards and purchase a card. They will then have you call them back and provide them with the MoneyPack card number, so they can remove the funds from the account.
With Collections Scams, the scammers are usually pushy and threatening. They will provide you with little or no information about the account and tell you that if you do not pay them immediately, they will send the police or sheriff to your house and have you arrested.
Phishing Scams are when scammers call and ‘fish’ for data. A common scam is when a suspect will call claiming to be from your bank or credit card company. They will tell you that you were the victim of fraud. They will then have you “verify” your identity by asking for personal information such as your Social Security Number and/or account number.
To protect yourself, Hardgraves said, remember these key rules:
• If someone calls claiming to be a family member in trouble, attempt contact with the family member. A 10-second phone call can save you thousands of dollars and heartache.
• If you don’t remember opening an account with the company, ask for the account details from the alleged collections agency and contact the company where the account was supposedly opened to inquire about the account. You may have been the victim of identity theft and not know it.
• If the alleged collection agency does give you information about the account, call the company you get from a source other than the potential scammer, such as the company’s website. With phone spoofing technology and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones, phone numbers can easily be masked.
• Be extremely wary of anyone who wants you to send money via wire transfer, use a MoneyPack card, or wants any other form of unusual payment.
• Never give any personal information to people who call you unless you are absolutely certain that they are who they say they are. If they called you, you should not have to verify your identity to them.
“Here in Escalon, we have had multiple incidents of all of the scams mentioned,” Hardgraves added. “Some of the victims had sent money and found out later they were scammed, some were scared because they could not afford to pay and believed they were going to be arrested or their family member harmed and called the police to find out what to do, others believed the scam to be suspicious and called the police for verification.”
Police are urging residents to be mindful of the different scams out there and be aware that new scams are always being thought up.
“Inform your friends and family that they too need to be vigilant,” said Hardgraves. “Although they target the elderly, anyone can fall victim to these scammers.”