Knowledge key to prevent financial crimes

EDITOR’S NOTE: In observance of National Crime Victims Rights Week, the Daily Press will be publishing articles throughout the week authored by agencies which support the victims of crime locally. Today’s column, the last in the series, is by Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg.

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ESCANABA – Caller: Grandpa?

Grandpa: Tommy?

Caller: Yeah, it’s Tommy. I’ve been in an accident in Canada and I was robbed last night. Could you send me some money so I can get back to Escanaba?

Would you send money to Tommy? If you said yes, you just fell for what is mostly commonly known as the “Grandparent Scam.”

In this particular scam, the criminal often targets the elderly, but they can also contact other relatives pretending to be their grandchild/niece/nephew, and so on. The caller sounds upset and typically states there are only a few moments to talk. The caller may say that they have a cold if you don’t quite recognize their voice, or cue-in on feedback from the call to sound even more convincing (scam victims often report being sure they were talking to their actual relative, but it’s a clever trick).

The smooth talking criminal’s story generally follows a familiar line: they were traveling in another country with a friend, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they are in jail and need bail money wired to a Western Union account as soon as possible for their quick release.

What if you suddenly receive an alluring email, phone call or letter from the opposite sex offering romance, mystery and excitement? What do you do? Well, if you don’t ignore such communication, you just fell for another scam. In these situations, once a connection is made to a person, the criminals will persuade their victim to send them money or provide their credit card information for living or travel expenses, or costs for a visa. Sometimes, the correspondent may tell you some sad, tragic story of a close family member in desperate need of some lifesaving medical procedure. Who hasn’t received such pleads through various written forms? It is a scam, don’t respond.

Perhaps one of law enforcement’s top 10 rip-offs of American consumers may just be the one many of us dream about. Millions of Americans stand in line in their respective states for the opportunity to win. Well, in this swindle it usually says something like this:

“Congratulations, you won the lottery – $40 million tax free. U.S. citizens win every week using our Secret System.

I hate tell you, there is no “Secret System.” There is no easy money. Someone isn’t going to come knocking at your door at home with a bag of cash and just give it to you, at least not legally. Foreign lotteries are just another big scam.

Typically in these cons, you will be told that you have to send them money in order to collect lottery winnings. Scam operators – often based in Canada – are using the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. consumers are responding to such solicitations that do get through to the amount of $120 million a year. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentential states U.S. consumers also reported fraud losses of over $26 million against companies located in Canada, and losses of over $189 million against companies located in other foreign countries in calendar year 2011.

There is a cornucopia of swindles out there today and the crooks are constantly changing or mixing them up to get money from you. Criminals pretend to be your financial institution, the local, state or federal governments, companies offering you an opportunity to work at home, job hunting assistance, foreclosure prevention help – the list of scams are endless, and they are happening right here in Delta County. While I do not have a dollar amount of how much money Delta County residents have lost to such scams, it is significant. The Delta County Sheriff’s Office has handled several cases recently in which residents have sent tens of thousands of dollars in response to scams. Victims usually send the money via electronic wiring systems such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Unfortunately, the likelihood of getting your money back after falling prey to a scam is fairly minuscule. When it comes to cross-border fraud, you will never get your money back.

During National Crime Victims Rights Week, April 21-27, 2013, the Delta County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind residents the importance of diligence when it comes to combating scams and frauds. You must know beyond a doubt who is asking for your personal information before you convey anything.

For example, should a caller tell you that they are from your financial institution needing to verify your account information, don’t provide them any details. Hang up and call the phone number you know for a fact is to your financial institution. Guard your personal information. Remember that there is no fast, legal way to make money. Call someone in your family directly, before sending money to a voice on the other end of the telephone claiming to be a relative in crisis. We encourage you to read consumer protection literature. There is a vast amount of information about scams at the Federal Trade Commission website at Knowledge is power in combating financial crimes.