Despite repeated warnings about email and other scams, local residents continue to be victimized by schemes too good to be true — including an elderly woman who recently lost thousands.
“I’m thinking it was $6,000,” Capt. Alan Freeman of the Mount Airy Police Department said. “It was several thousands of dollars and it would have been more had the bank not caught it and said, ‘something’s not right here — you might want to check into this.’”
The elderly woman who was victimized lives alone and didn’t have any family members to confer with after being contacted through one of the so-called Nigerian 419 scams, Freeman said. These typically involve emails originating from the African nation which tell the recipient they will be paid for transferring large sums out of the country using his or her bank account, or that they have won money which requires paying a fee.
Being asked to help in retrieving cash from overseas accounts should immediately send up a red flag, authorities say.
Identifying such schemes by the number “419” refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.
“I know there’s been several thousands and thousands of dollars sent before (a) family member catches it or somebody stops it, and usually it’s the bank,” Freeman said. Older people often are more trusting, and “the letters are convincing,” he added, especially if a professional-looking letterhead or apparent legal stamp is applied.
The elderly victim is not alone in losing money through such schemes now making their rounds among Mount Airy residents with increased frequency, Freeman said. “The Mount Airy Police Department has received several reports of citizens being scammed for money.”
Freeman added that the department has a growing file detailing fraudulent activities targeting citizens here. “I would say hundreds of them come in,” he said. “We have a lot of reports — very few actually follow through with it” and send money.
One of the schemes involves emails supposedly sent by the Fed-Ex Nigeria Head Office, 70 International Airport Road, Mafoluku, in Lagos, Nigeria, according to information from city police. Similar to other scam letters and emails, they claim the recipient has won $2 million.
Another involves a letter purportedly sent by the “Austrian International Prize Center,” located in the Dominican Republic. It states that the recipient has won $1.8 million.
Both those scams are alike in requiring the alleged recipients to send money via Western Union before they can obtain their prizes.
Accident, Arrest Claim
Another recent scam circulating locally involves a citizen receiving a telephone call claiming that a relative has been involved in an accident or been arrested and needs money sent.
Usually it’s a son or grandchild said to be involved who requires money to post bond, pay for damages or for attorney fees. The scammer is able to provide the actual family member’s name, according to Freeman.
The person then tells the proposed victim to wire money via Western Union, and provides information on the procedure. In one incident, a scammer actually assisted a victim in identifying a location in Mount Airy with a Western Union office, Freeman said.
Duke Power Scam
One scenario involves people receiving a call from someone claiming to be a representative of Duke Power. They are told that they are behind on payments and if money is not received their service will be disconnected.
The would-be victims are advised to buy a prepaid “Green Dot” Master/Visa card for the sum owed, then call the scammer back to provide its number to access cash.
Freeman related the case of a Hispanic man who received such a contact. “Of course, he was scared,” the police official said. The man actually went out and bought a prepaid card and was on the verge of sending the money, but stopped at the last minute because something just didn’t sound right.
He reported the matter to city police and as it turns out, the man isn’t even a Duke Power customer, Freeman said.
“This guy came close to paying” and stopped. “A lot of people don’t.”
Although Duke Power’s name has been used by scammers, any company could be involved, Freeman said.
However, the mere mention of that utility can alarm consumers, Freeman acknowledged. “It’s wintertime and you’re an elderly person,” he said of planting fear in people’s minds about interrupted service. “They don’t want any hassles.”
Another fraudulent enterprise that has caught local law enforcement attention is a “Green Dot” scam in which an email or a warning pops up on someone’s computer claiming they are under investigation by the FBI for some type of website violation. They are told that they must pay a fine.
Targeted individuals are directed to get a “Green Dot” Master card for the fines owed and call a number to provide the money. But this is not the way the FBI or any other law enforcement agency in the U.S. conducts investigations, according to Freeman.
Most, if not all, the phone numbers provided are overseas or have been routed through ones in the U.S. to a foreign location.
Several variations of scams involving prepaid Green Dot credit cards have surfaced, police say.
Freeman also said another company linked to questionable correspondence is Financial Acquisition Agency (FAA) of Miami, which sends a letter telling someone they have unclaimed money — but again requiring payment of a fee.
Someone who receives such a contact should research it via the Internet or other means. “It took me all of 20 seconds to pull up fraud information (about FAA),” Freeman said.
The police official said the various schemes seem to depend on a volume approach that targets large numbers of individuals in the hopes just a few will bite.
Scammers get names of prospective victims from telephone books, the Internet, newspapers and other sources. “They sit around all day with nothing to do but come up with these schemes,” Freeman said.
He said information regarding the scam attempts on local citizens will be forwarded to the U.S. Secret Service, which is building a database of names and numbers it hopes will allow those responsible to be found.
Financial Acquisition Agency has been brought up on federal charges, according to Freeman’s research. It is harder to prosecute foreign violators, who might be located in places such as the Netherlands as well as Nigeria.
In the meantime, officials say citizens should be wary and heed police warnings:
“Never, ever give out your credit card information or other personal information. Doing a little research can save you or a family member a lot of money and grief. Contact your local law enforcement agency if you have questions.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.