Two recent scams have conned local residents out of thousands of dollars and have authorities warning the public how to avoid being its next victims.
The two scams are similar, however, one is executed by phone, the other by email.
It is a very simple scam — A phone call comes from a person who says they are acquaintances with a family member of yours who is in legal trouble or is stranded and needs money quickly. The caller explains to hide embarrassment about the predicament that family member is in they bypassed their parents and wanted to call their grandparents instead.
Feeling like their grandchild is in need and having the urge to help, many ask how much money needs to be sent and then wire it as quick as they can in order to help that loved one.
The only problem is, that grandchild is not in any trouble and a scammer walks away with thousands of dollars in cash.
“It’s called the Grandparent Scam,” said Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, noting that he first heard of the scam a few years back. “It has come back again because, just in the last week or so, we have looked into a case or two to try and figure out where the calls were coming from.”
Most of the time, the scammer is called from a burn phone, which is bought and thrown out after the scam calls are made to the victims. Most of them, Thornton said, are called at random.
“Yeah, they are just dialing numbers and taking a chance,” he said. “Out of 100 people, you are bound to get an older person and then they work their scam. If they get one to send them money, they are successful. Unfortunately, you have some people out there whose hearts are in the right place and they really want to help people … in doing that, they wind up losing thousands of dollars, which is a real shame.”
Like other popular scams, the Grandparent Scam is not a complicated one, but one that is effective if the call is made to the right person. Although it doesn’t look like these scams are going away any time soon, Thornton said there are some things that citizens can do to protect themselves for falling victim to a scammer.
“Notify someone,” he said. “Call us, call an attorney, call your family members … anyone, just let someone know that you got a call and it didn’t sound right. If any of our citizens get a call like that, all they have to do is tell the caller that they will call them back. Then give us a call and we will check it out to see if there is any validity to it.
Computer Hacking Scam
A newer form of scam is computer hackers entering an account and pulling a similar scam on victims through email.
“We have just gotten one in where it is a variation on the Grandparent Scam,” said Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley. “Only this one is where the relative is in another country, was robbed and needed money to get back to the airport or something like that. It is all the same and it is all a scam.”
Tilley said the scammer slyly hacks into an email account and uses that accounts contacts to send out emails to people that may know the victim. Those emails say that the person is in some distress and in need of immediate help.
“It plays on the victim’s sympathy,” notes Tilley. “They are stranded and need help or they are in trouble, but it always ends with ‘please send money’.”
Unfortunately, like most scams, computer hackers are hard to trace.
“It is almost impossible, most of the time the emails are just redirected,” Tilley said. “Who knows where the account comes from. The only thing that really you can do to prevent it is to invest in some really good anti-virus software on your computer and be careful what sites you click on to. Some of those sites are fake and are set up just so hackers can get your information.”
Another tip, Tilley said, is to not open any suspicious emails you may get or simply ignore an email.
“If you have any doubts about an unknown email,” he said, “delete it.”
To report any phone scams call the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office at 910-592-4141.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.