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Perry warns about scams
Sheriff Lane Perry
Sunday, May 4, 2014
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry urges area residents to think twice when they pick up the phone.
Recently, Perry said, a telephone scam has claimed two victims in the area.
In the most recent case, according to a release from the Martinsville Police Department, a 78-year-old woman in Martinsville recently was scammed out of $4,000 when a caller told her that her granddaughter was in jail in New York.
The scammer, pretending to be a police officer, told the woman that her granddaughter’s bond was set at $4,000, and the woman could get her out of jail by buying $4,000 in MoneyPak cards at a drug store, scratching off the backs, and reading the numbers to him over the phone.
The are several red flags that residents should listen for when they receive such calls, Perry said. The first is a sense of urgency: the scammer will tell the resident that he needs to act immediately or the grandchild or loved one will be jailed.
“They try to push you to do this right now,” Perry said. “It just keeps getting more urgent. When that’s going on, you need to back away from it.”
A second red flag, he said, is that the person claiming to be with law enforcement is calling from far outside of the area, making it more difficult for the scam victim to check the facts. Last year, Perry said, there were two county cases where scammers claimed that the resident’s grandchild was about to be jailed in Mexico.
“It’s usually out of the country,” Perry said, “somewhere where you can’t just pick up a phone and call (the loved one).”
If an area resident receives one of these calls, Perry said, the best course of action is to take a step back and ask for a call-back number. Then, he said, call the sheriff’s office and report the call.
Generally, Perry said, these sorts of scam calls come from outside of the country. Right now, he said, the majority are coming from Nicaragua.
As a result, the percentage of arrests likely is low. Due to the distances involved, the federal government is the only entity that has the resources to pursue these cases to their points of origin.
However, Perry said, the sheriff’s office does report scam cases to the appropriate government entities.
While some of the scam victims likely are chosen randomly, Perry said, older residents generally are targeted.
Older residents grew up during a period when people often were more trusting, Perry said, and they often have more easily accessible money than do younger residents.
“We were brought up in a time where if somebody told you that you owed some money, it was probably legitimate,” he said. “But nowadays, you need to check everything out.”
Perry said different types of scams seem to hit the area in spells. Other scams to keep an eye out for include:
• Phone calls informing the resident she has won the lottery. Sometimes, Perry said, residents even receive bogus checks for millions of dollars. An accompanying letter asks the scam victim to mail a portion of the winnings back to the fake lottery commission.
“You’re not going to get something for nothing,” Perry said. “If they want you to cash a check and send back a portion to them, it’s bogus.”
• Phone calls informing the resident that there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and the U.S. Marshals or the sheriff’s department is going to come to his house and arrest him.
However, the caller says, if the resident pays a fine over the phone, he will be allowed to go free or turn himself in.
“No one involved in law enforcement is going to call and tell you that you can pay to postpone (your arrest) or pay a fine,” Perry said. “We’re actually going to come to the door and let you know what’s taking place.”
• Phone calls informing the resident that there has been an annual raise in her Social Security benefits, and in order to activate the raise, her information first must be verified over the phone. This information could allow the scammer to steal the victim’s identity.
• Phone calls informing the resident that the caller is from the billing department of a hospital where the resident recently had surgery, and there is an outstanding bill the resident must pay.
“If someone calls asking for (payment for) a medical procedure, hang up and call the hospital directly,” Perry said.
• Door-to-door solicitors selling meat from the back of a truck, or offering to perform roof repairs or to seal driveways. If the solicitors park at the very end of the driveway, Perry said, that should raise a red flag: they are trying to make it more difficult for the resident to see their license plate numbers.
Additionally, Perry said, when college-aged students are out of school, companies begin hiring them to sell items such as magazines, children’s books and burglar alarm systems.
“The companies don’t have good reputations,” Perry said. “They use high-pressure tactics. The college students may not be treated well, either.”
In the case of the burglar alarm companies, he said, the company will offer to install an inexpensive alarm system. The catch, he said, is that the monthly monitoring fee is exorbitantly high. A legitimate burglar alarm company will offer a more expensive installation but a monthly monitoring fee of only a few dollars.
As of right now, Perry said, there are no active solicitor’s permits in the county, so anyone selling items door-to-door in the county is doing so without a license.
If solicitor’s permits are granted, he said, the sheriff’s office will add the solicitor’s name, company and license expiration date to the sheriff’s office Facebook page so that residents will have an easily accessible database of legitimate door-to-door salesmen.
“We’re not endorsing anything,” he said. “This is a means to protect the citizens.”
The sheriff’s office Facebook page is available at www.facebook.com/henrycountysheriff.