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If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, a local law enforcement authority says.
Wapak-oneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock said he can’t emphasize that piece of advice enough when it comes to criminals trying to cash in on unsuspecting residents.
He said it’s what his officers hear all the time when taking reports on Internet and phone scams and schemes being used to try and get personal information or money.
“These people prey on the good citizens of our community,” Hunlock said. “My biggest piece of advice is to disregard it, hang up, use good judgement.”
He said although they have handled fewer complaints recently, the trend is to contact residents by telephone — although e-mails and text messages are becoming more common.
Unfortunately, many of those making contact via telephone are from other countries so follow-up investigations can be hard and once the criminals get what they are looking for it is virtually lost, the police chief said.
“Verify what e-mails are before you open them and always double check before giving out any information,” Hunlock said. “If you have any doubts, give us a call, we will be more than happy to lead you in the right direction.”
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said within the last week even their dispatchers received suspicious calls from someone looking for personal information. They asked for a welfare check on an “aunt and uncle” in New Bremen.
“Our dispatchers were a little skeptical of the call, but are required to follow through on the check,” Solomon said.
When they called the number they were given back, no one could be reached.
The same foreign caller made contact with the New Bremen Police Department requesting another welfare check, also giving the address and phone number of his alleged aunt and uncle.
“He was trying to get someone to slip up,” Solomon said.
Upon further investigation, local law enforcement discovered that the couple in question had received information in the mail claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House and telling them that to claim a large prize they needed to make $100 payments, which they made until those requested payment amounts began to rise and the couple stopped sending money.
“They were trying to get a way to contact them once they got them on the hook,” Solomon said.
The Sheriff’s Office also is getting correspondence from people requesting information through the Internet.
“They want you to call back and either check on someone or get information for them,” Solomon said. “They are trying to get someone to give them bank account information, personal information, any kind of vital information.”
Another common scheme being reported to deputies is from people claiming to be calling on a grandchild’s behalf after they were in an accident somewhere and need money wired to them.
“Check with relatives, confirm everything before sending money to anyone,” Solomon said.
He advised residents not to reply to e-mails and don’t give out any personal information. Check any claims in person or make notification that there may be problems.
“Banks won’t call or send information in the mail requesting information they already have in front of them,” Solomon said. “If you win something you won’t have to make payments to get your prize.”
The sheriff advised anyone with concerns in a situation to call them. While there isn’t always a lot they can do, sometimes they can try to make contact and at least prevent further calls or messages.
Solomon said even if there isn’t much deputies can do in a particular situation, they still like to have a report of it so they can notify other residents before they fall for the schemes.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center recently released its 2011 Internet Crime Report, with information showing that the center received 314,246 complaints resulting in $485 million in reported stolen funds.
FBI impersonation e-mail scams topped the list of reported crimes, with approximately 39 complaints per day resulting in an average reported loss of $245 per complaint.
Tami Nealy, spokesperson for LifeLock, a proactive identity theft prevention program, said the most common schemes they have seen across the country during the past five years include a jury duty scam specifically targeted at the elderly.
“They make contact and identify themselves with the court system, saying that because they didn’t show up for jury duty there is a warrant out for their arrest,” Nealy said.
The problem is when people hear the call is from a known entity and develop fear of the problem the caller has created, they let their guard down and end up divulging personal information, which the caller can then use themselves or sell to someone else, she said.
“The schemes transform over time, but that’s what it is always about,” Nealy said, advising anyone who gets a call like that to double check what the caller is saying.
The Better Business Bureau has reported another common scheme that took place during the last census, with people claiming to be working for the government, gathering more personnel information than was needed.
The latest scheme comes in the way of an e-mail from someone claiming to be from the FBI and saying that they had tracked computer usage to more than 40 illegal websites.
Opening the attachment releases a virus that is left spying on computer usage, copying key strokes made so that even when it’s closed, the tracker can see where the computer user goes, and what usernames and passwords are used, potentially allowing them to take over accounts.
“Just because someone says they are with an agency, don’t just trust them,” Nealy said. “Ask to see a badge, call to confirm. Don’t open anything or click or any links.”
She recommended googling a company’s name and looking up alleged offers. If they are that good, they will be easily accessible and not hidden.
She said while not everyone will fall for these schemes, criminals aren’t looking for 100 percent response rate.
“They just need one out of 100 to respond,” Nealy said. “Even if it’s something you would never fall for, talk to family members, especially the elderly, and let them know what to look for.”