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Avoid scams this holiday season

by Minden Press-Herald

Visions of big dollars coming to our bank account can sometime make us do dangerous things, like give a stranger our bank account number, social security number or some other sensitive piece of personal information.

Too late, we learn personal and/or savings accounts have been emptied, large purchases have been made in our names using credit cards of which we were totally unaware and our credit has been destroyed beyond repair.

We’ve been scammed, but we’re not alone. According to estimates from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, fraudulent telemarketers cheat one in six American consumers out of an estimated $40 billion each year.

“I think you’d be amazed at how many scams are out there and how many reasonable and intelligent people fall for them,” Minden Chief of Police Steve Cropper said. “People seem to be very vulnerable when someone talks to them about large sums of money or expensive gifts.”

Cropper said the number of scams doesn’t necessarily increase with the onset of the holiday season.

“It’s something that goes on every day, holidays or not,” he said. “It just seems the public is more sensitive to these things when they’re happening during a holiday like Christmas.”

Most of the phone scams he hears about involve large sums of money or expensive automobiles, Cropper said. But scammers have come up with many innovative ways to separate individuals from their hard-earned money.

“We had one lady who lost quite a large sum to a man she had been talking to for awhile. He told her he wanted to marry her but that he needed money for a plane ticket to get down here,” Cropper said.

“After she sent him money, he called back and said he had to use the money for something else, but if she would send him more money he would come to Louisiana. This happened a couple of times and, of course, the guy never showed up.”

Cropper said that story was disturbing enough, but became even more so when the victim began receiving phone calls from a second person.

“This second person was pulling practically the same thing at the same time as the other. We contacted her family early on, but they couldn’t get her to stop talking to these people or sending them money,” he said.

Cropper said scam artists most frequently target the elderly and national statistics support his belief. Fraud complaints tracked by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012 showed persons 60 years and older made up 26 percent of all complaints.

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) claims about 80 percent of individuals who are victimized by dishonest telemarketers are 50 years old or older.

According to the National Council on Aging, among the most popular themes are sweepstakes and lottery scams, magazine subscriptions, charity scams and uncollected debt scams.

There’s even “the grandparent scam,” a particularly devious scheme in which a caller may ask grandma if she “knows who this is?” When the victim answers with a name they believe sounds like the caller, a fake identity has been established. From there, the scammer will ask for money.

Telephones or the Internet seem to be the popular choice of those who try to separate Americans from their money. The old fashioned method of communication, however, is still an effective way to convince individuals a scheme is legitimate.

“We’ve seen letters and other pieces of mail that look real,” Cropper said. “One letter had a replica of the FBI seal and another made you think you were really looking at a winner’s announcement from Publisher’s Clearing House.”

Unfortunately, investigating scams is extremely difficult for law enforcement on all levels. Financial scams are expensive to pursue and there usually is little evidence, if any, beyond the phone call or letter. Prosecution of a scam case is rare.

“We just ask our people to be aware there are those who want to take their money, and they are very good at what they do,” Cropper said. “We think people should be very wary of strangers who say they want to make them rich. If there is any doubt at all, people should call law enforcement or their family.”

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