Scammers have recently cost two Limestone County residents more than $65,000, and local authorities are reminding everyone that even the most unique stories can hold classic scam signs.
A 60-year-old woman reported a scam involving a man who impersonated United States military personnel and targeted people looking for a relationship online, the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday.
“The scammer set up fake social media accounts, stealing photos and information from a military service member’s social media account and gaining the victim’s trust, then fabricating a tragedy such as a friend killed or wounded in battle,” said Public Information Officer Stephen Young.
Then, he said, the victim was asked to cash a check sent by the scammer and forward the amount to a specified account. By the time the scam was uncovered, the victim was out almost $42,000.
“Banks are required to make funds available after a few days, but it may take weeks for them to discover that the check is forged, leaving the victim liable for the loss,” Young said.
In a separate scam, a 73-year-old woman lost nearly $25,000 after she was informed she won a large sum of money but needed to pay taxes and fees before she could receive it. Young said among the forged documents sent to the victim was a document made to appear as if it was from the Alabama State Treasury.
“It is important for citizens to understand that anything requiring money upfront is a scam,” Young said. “Should you send money, you will likely never recover it, and it is very difficult for law enforcement to identify these scammers, who are usually from outside the United States.”
Stopping scam calls
The Better Business Bureau said the number of people reporting phone scams is growing, with about 6,700 reported in 2016 but more than 5,700 reported in just the first seven months of 2017.
The BBB advises the following for consumers who wish to reduce the number of scam phone calls they receive:
• Do not answer calls from unrecognized numbers. Give scammers the opportunity to leave a voicemail instead;
• Be cautious of automated messages offering removal from a calling list if a number is pressed. This could mark a number as active, and the caller may continue calling or pass the number to other scammers;
• Don’t trust Caller ID. If someone calls claiming to be with a legitimate company or organization, hang up and find an alternate number to call the company or organization directly;
• Join the Do Not Call Registry at DoNotCall.gov. It won’t stop scammers, but it will mean fewer calls and make it easier to spot scams;
• Write down the scammer’s phone number, and file a scam report with BBB Scam Tracker (https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/), the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant (https://bit.ly/FTCComplaintAssistant) and the National Do Not Call Registry (https://bit.ly/NDNCRegistry); and
• Use Nomorobo (https://www.nomorobo.com) to take a number off any robo-call or automated call list. Nomorobo is free for landlines and $1.99 per month for mobile devices.
Common scam types
The official website of the United States government (https://www.USA.gov) lists several common types of scams to watch out for. Here are some of these types and how to identify them:
• Telephone scams. In addition to some of the previously mentioned tips, USA.gov advises hanging up on suspicious callers, refusing to provide personal information over the phone, refusing to answer if an unrecognized caller asks, “Can you hear me?” and being wary of callers claiming a vacation or prize package has been won;
• Banking scams. This can include unsolicited checks, checks offering a portion to keep in exchange for wiring the rest, requests to verify banking information or someone offering automatic withdrawals before prize winnings can be collected;
• IRS imposters. Scammers may claim money is owed, threaten an arrest, ask to verify personal information or demand immediate payment. However, the Internal Revenue Service will not contact via phone or email and would be able to provide verifiable information such as a badge or form number;
• Charity scams. Hang up and verify the charity through the BBB, state or local consumer agencies or the IRS’s database of 501(c)(3) organizations before donating; and
• Prize scammers. These scams may claim a prize has been won even though the victim can’t remember entering the contest or require information for a contest entry. By mail, the scam’s postage is often marked “bulk rate,” and any scam that uses U.S. mail for its scheme can be reported to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (https://bit.ly/USPIScomplaint).
For the full USA.gov list, visit https://www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds.