LAURINBURG –Cons and con artists come in a number of guises, but people can take measures to protect themselves against fraud, according to authorities.
Last month, a Laurel Hill woman was taken in by someone claiming to be with Microsoft. The scammer asked the victim to provide her account information to get $1,800 that was owed to her. The victim got a second call later to say that too much money had been refunded and that she would need to $2,600. The woman’s bank account was compromised as a result of interaction.
Another county resident reported to police that she lost $1,900 after responding to an Instagram post about a chance to make money. She was instructed to send funds to someone in Jamaica and told she would receive a larger sum return. After the woman sent the money, the scammer cut off communications.
Lt. Chris Young of the Laurinburg Police Department said those kinds of scams seems easy to spot in hindsight, but more people than you may think fall for them every day. The old adage still stands: if it seems too good to be true it probably is.
“They see it as an easy way to make income and fall for it, only to wind up losing money,” Young said.
Approximately one in 10 American adults lost money to a phone scam in 2016 for a total of $7.4 billion, according to Truecaller, a provider of mobile communication applications, including caller ID and spam detection.
In the last six months, Laurinburg police have had about 70 reported cases of fraud. Nearly 30 percent of those cases involved Internet scams.
Young said he has seen online scams that involve everything from cloned social media accounts used to con relatives out of money to fake job offers.
“With technology the way it is now they are able to gather a person’s identity through the Internet,” Young said. “They seem to target the elderly and play on a person’s emotions like saying the victim’s family member is in jail and they need to send money.”
The best way to protect yourself from this type of scam is to verify the person’s claims. Call your friend or relative, or check the police department or hospital where the person claims to be in trouble.
Other scams take advantage of people looking for work or interested in starting a side business.
“Fake Facebook pages exist with many ‘opportunities’ shared and promoted; bogus jobs may also be posted on legitimate Facebook pages, too,” said Susan P. Joyce an online job hunt expert who writes for the website job-hunt.org.
Swindlers are also known to post on LinkedIn groups and post fake profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter.
“LinkedIn does try to eliminate the fake profiles, and limit access or remove the accounts when someone with a real profile spreads junk inside of LinkedIn,” Joyce said.
She warns that those looking for jobs should verify that the social media account is real by researching the company or recruiter name before following the link to apply. Be wary of social media pages that have fewer than 500 followers especially if the company is well-known.
Other scammers pose as recruiters and make contact through email asking for a resume or other personal information.
One way to look out for these types of scammers is to check the email address, according to Joyce. A recruiter for IBM will never ask a prospective employee to send a resume to a personal email address at Yahoo! or Gmail.
“A real Mary Smith who was actually a recruiter from IBM would probably ask you to respond to her via her @IBM.com email address or to post your resume on the IBM.com website,” Joyce writes.
Don’t use the contact information on a job posting, give out personal identification information, send a resume or set up a profile until you confirm that the company and opportunity is real.
Another scam involves listing a home or some other item for sale or rent that does not exist. Another version of this scam is to pose as the owner of a property that is available, and take a deposit from the victim.
Laurinburg police recently took a report from a victim who rented a beach house for vacation. The family arrived to find out there “was no house at that address,” Young said.
The best way to avoid these scams is to use a real estate agent, according to Guy McCook, owner of Hasty Realty.
“Go to the website of local Realtors,” McCook said. “Our information is what’s accurate. It’s what is currently on the market.”
McCook also advises never putting up cash for a deposit or earnest money; use a credit card so that payments can be stopped if needed.
Engaging a lawyer to run a title search on a property is another way to make sure you are not being taken advantage of. A title search will ensure that there are no other claims on the property and that the person claiming to own it actually does.
Other scammers use fake business sites to obtain credit card or banking information through what appears to be a legitimate purchase.
“Hackers create a website because it is so easy to do it as a business,” Young said. “You think you’re purchasing toy; you send your credit card, and the next thing you know your account is compromised.”
Young warns shoppers to make sure they are using trustworthy sites and dealing with reputable sellers by checking the seller rating, customer reviews and seller history.
The shopping comparison website money.co.uk lists the following tips to vet shopping sites.
Does the site have: broken or poorly worded English, spelling errors, glaring grammatical errors, or have pictures used to fill space instead of pictures of the products?
To make sure you are on a secured site look for these hallmarks: a padlock next to the company name in the URL, an about us link, an up-to-date security certificate (your browser may automatically let you know if it is out of date).
Craigslist, one of the most well-known internet trading sites, provides a link at the bottom of its home page that gives users tips on how to remain safe and avoid scams:
• Do not extend payment to anyone you have not met in person.
• Beware of offers involving shipping; deal with locals you can meet in person.
• Never wire funds − e.g. Western Union − anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
• Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders – banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
• Transactions are between users only, no third party provides a “guarantee”.
• Never give out financial info − bank account, social security, PayPal account, etc.
• Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen − that amazing “deal” may not exist.
• Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.
If you believe you are the victim of fraud, “report it as soon as possible to your local law enforcement, contact your financial institution and contact credit reporting agencies,” Young said. “A person that obtains your identity could cause years of problems for your credit rating.”
Depending on the type of fraud local agencies will initiate a report and turn it over to another agency like the FBI or another local law enforcement agency where the fraud took place.
It is possible to recover losses, but it is time consuming.
Young said banks are “pretty quick to return money,” but they continue to investigate the incident because once a customer’s money is refunded the bank becomes the victim in the case.
Credit card agencies conduct independent investigations to determine if fraud has occurred before returning money or clearing charges.
You do not have to be a victim before reporting suspicious accounts, contacts, or webpages, Young said. Residents often bring suspicious letters or emails to the police department to see if they are legitimate.
“Be cautious. If you have questions or concerns contact law enforcement to see if it is legitimate or possibly a scam,” Young said.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169