Atmore police warn of scams

Published 5:50 pm Friday, June 21, 2013

Officials with Atmore Police Department are once again warning citizens of various scams and asking them to be vigilant and aware of these types of crimes. Unfortunately, most of these scams, police say, particularly the various phone scams, originate outside the United States and are virtually impossible to locate and convict the perpetrators. Even if a caller ID shows the phone number as a U. S. number, or even a local number; phone scammers often use electronic scramblers that will show a different number than the one they are using. APD officials say everyone should be suspicious of any plan, idea, scheme, business deal or any proposition that requires a person to provide money or personal information on short notice. Several of the more common scams that we see are:


The Grandparent Scheme:

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A person, usually a senior citizen, receives a call from someone claiming to be his or her grandchild. The caller has an elaborate story about needing money for school, or claims to be the victim of a car accident, or needs money for a class trip. Currently, a common story is that the caller is overseas and has been mugged and had all his money and documentation stolen, or has been arrested by authorities in a foreign country. The caller will often claim to be too embarrassed to ask his parents, and plead that the grandparents not contact them. The caller then convinces the senior to wire funds as soon as possible, often through Western Union whose transactions are final and difficult to trace. Or they may claim to be a police officer or other official in another country or state and calling on the behalf of the grandchild who is in trouble. Often the caller may even sound like their grandchild, and provide names or other information to lead them to believe that it is a legitimate call. There has been an epidemic of the grandparent scam across the United States (including several in the Atmore area); as a result, older people should be on high alert. If you receive a call like this and are unsure of whom the person is, ask for further information. Verify with the parents. And never wire money to anyone unless you are 100 percent certain of who it is and have verified his or her information. Once you wire the money, it is gone for good and the chances of catching the scammer are almost nonexistent.


The Fake Lottery or Sweepstakes:

A scammer gathers contact information such as an email address, phone number or mailing address. The scammer then contacts a person claiming that the person has won a prize, and the scammer simply needs a credit card to process the reward. The recipient may be enticed to buy a subscription or pay to enter a lottery in order to be eligible for a sweepstakes. Of course, no subscription is ever honored, and any cash submitted for a sweepstakes goes right into the hands of the scammer. It is illegal for companies to require you to buy anything to enter a sweepstakes. Shred any offer that asks you to do so. Or they may send you a check or sum of money, ask you to keep a certain amount and send them the rest. Never give your credit card number in order to claim a prize. This will compromise your information and jeopardize your financial security. Never send cash through the mail. Any legitimate lottery or sweepstakes will never require you to send them money to get money; neither will they send you a check or cash and ask you to keep a certain amount and send the rest back to them.


The Credit Card Fraud Call:

In this scam, a caller claims to be from the victim’s credit card company and states that a fraudulent charge has been placed on the card. The person may even present information such as a current billing address and the last five numbers on the senior’s credit card. The caller then asks for the three-digit verification code on the back of the card in order to reverse the charges. Once scammers receive this, they have complete access to the credit card. Never give out your bank or credit card information under these circumstances. Hang up, call the phone number on the back of your card and ask customer service to verify whether there is a fraudulent charge. Alert them if it turns out a scam has been attempted.


Prescription Discounts:

Numerous scams target people’s, particularly seniors citizens’, need for prescription drugs. The target may receive offers to buy medicine at 50 percent off or in bulk via mail, email or unsolicited phone calls. The reality is the offer may require a hefty membership fee to get started, or the fake company asks for a credit card number. The drugs often never arrive, and if they do, they may be of questionable quality. There are many discount prescription drug programs offered through health insurance carriers that are useful and legitimate. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a program that he or she can vouch for.


MoneyPak or Green Dot Cards:

Scammers will call or email you saying that you won a lottery or sweepstakes, or offering a product or service at a discount price. Then they say you need to pay fees to get your prize, or pre-pay for the merchandise via MoneyPak. Next, they ask for the 14-digit code found on the back of the card. Once you’ve given them that code, you’ve given them instant access, and the scammers can transfer your MoneyPak funds to their own prepaid cards. Reloadable debit cards — especially the top-selling, legitimate Green Dot cards — are the new money-moving method of choice for scammers. Never give the MoneyPak number to someone you don’t know. Refuse offers that ask you to buy a MoneyPak and share the number or receipt information by email or phone. Don’t use MoneyPak to pay taxes or fees to claim “winnings” on a foreign lottery or prize promotion. Foreign lotteries are illegal, and you shouldn’t have to pay to receive a prize. Unless it’s an approved MoneyPak partner, don’t use MoneyPak for any offer that requires you to pay before you get an item. Advance-fee loan offers are illegal and targeted at customers struggling with debt and poor credit. Never pay a fee — via MoneyPak or wire transfer — to collect a prize or sweepstakes win. It’s a scam. Avoid offers that don’t accept credit card payments and require you to purchase a MoneyPak and provide the card number via e-mail or phone. Remember, unlike credit cards, MoneyPak transactions can never be reversed.


Home Repair Scams:

Home repair and improvement scams are among the most common scams. Victims complain about shoddy workmanship, “fly-by-night” contractors who take payments and don’t show up to do the work, and companies that pressure homeowners into expensive, unneeded repairs. You can avoid becoming a victim by taking important precautions before having home repairs done. Beware of roving con artists known as “Travellers”. These scam artists knock on people’s doors and offer to do work such as roofing, gutter cleaning, driveway paving or sealing, or tree pruning. Warning signs of a scam include: an offer of a reduced price because they’ve “just done a job nearby and have materials left over”. An offer of a “special” percentage off the repair without being clear about what the bottom-line price will be. No street address or telephone number, just a post office box or an answering service. A refusal to give a written estimate or contract. Accepts only cash payments and asks you to pay entire job up front. Don’t hire contractors who come to your door unsolicited, even if they seem honest and helpful. These con artists may take your money and disappear before finishing the job, or sometimes before even starting the work, and are probably not licensed. If something goes wrong, you would have no way to track them down. Also, admitting strangers to your home puts you at risk of being robbed. Deal only with licensed contractors. When you need work done to your home, choose a contractor carefully. Get recommendations for licensed contractors from satisfied friends and neighbors.


Other tips to avoid becoming a victim of a con or scam artist include:

•Realize scam artists are professionals – everyone is a potential victim.

•Remember that if it sounds too good to be true; it probably is NOT true.

•Suspect all “Get Rich Quick” schemes.

•Lock your doors when doing yard work, getting the mail, or anytime you go outside – both the front and back doors.

•Never allow strangers inside your home.

•Ask “officials” to produce identification, and confirm their alleged employment.

•Contact the utility company by telephone if any purported worker wants to enter your home, or requests you to go outside with him/her.

•Display “No Solicitation” and “Beware of Dog” signs near your residence door.

•Be wary of any unexpected contact with strangers (in person or on the telephone).

•Suspect all “door-to-door” sales solicitations. Beware of unsolicited home repairmen. Be suspicious of anyone knocking at your door asking to make repairs to your landscape, home and/or asking to pave or seal your driveway. It is unlawful to sell or solicit door to door in Atmore without a license. Call the police if you see this.

•Talk with a trusted friend or relative before making major money decisions.

•Be suspicious of high-pressure sales tactics.

•Write down the license plate number of any suspicious vehicle(s) the suspect(s) may be operating.

•Never throw bills, bank statements, or other documents that has any personal, credit or financial information in the trash without shredding it.

•If you suspect that you are a target of a scam, or wish to check the validity of a claim, offer or proposal that may be a potential scam; contact the police.