News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 17, 2013

Beware of scams everywhere

Brown Bag program warns public to be cautious

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Ever get a phone call in the middle of the night from a person claiming to be your grandchild, who unfortunately has been jailed in Canada and needs bail money?

Have you won a foreign lottery, but need to pay the taxes first before the prize money can be sent to you?

Or maybe you get checks mailed to you for large amounts of money, and you’re supposed to cash those checks and send part of the money back to the sender as a handling fee.

Any of those three scenarios happen all the time, every day, because someone falls victim to a scam.

But wait, there’s more! Scams, that is.

In Terre Haute, outreach service specialist Amy Wardlow brought information from Attorney General Greg Zoeller to a brown bag speaker program at the Vigo County Public Library to warn the public not to be victimized by scams or identity theft.

“It’s hard to convince someone they are not going to be a millionaire,” said Wardlow, who has worked with many people who get taken in by too-good-to-be-true promises that end up taking their money.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division frequently presents public forums to education the public on the proliferation of scams, fraud and identity theft affecting Hoosiers.

Wardlow said she, herself, has been the victim of fraud. Several years ago, someone was able to clone information from her bank card and create a duplicate to purchase $300 at a gas station at Chicago. Wardlow said that her bank caught the dubious transactions the same day, and she was able to sign an affidavit at the bank and get her money returned to her account.

But not everyone is that lucky.

There are some cases where a bank may not believe that its customer did not make the fraudulent charges. In those cases, the consumer must fill out a police report about the fraud and contact the attorney general’s office for help.

“Usually, the only time an identity thief gets caught is when they steal information from someone in the same community,” Wardlow said. Many times, the fraud will occur in another or multiple states because whoever steals a person’s identity or credit card information can quickly sell that valuable information to someone somewhere else. That makes tracking down the suspect much harder.

And then there are cases where someone receives a bogus check in the mail, printed as if it is a valid check, and deposits that check in the bank. If the sender of the check asks for taxes to be returned via Western Union or Moneygram before additional “prize money” can be sent to the winner, that’s a big warning sign. As soon as the recipient -- “scammer” --  receives the wire transfer of funds, the recipient picks up that cash and it is gone.

“They’re giving you bad money for good money,” she explained.

Wardlow said the bank is required to make the money available to its customer within a few days, but it could take up to two weeks for that check to be returned to the bank as invalid. The bank will then take that money back out of its customer’s account, so if the customer has spent any of the money -- the taxes, for instance -- the consumer ends up losing money or owing the bank.

Sometimes, the check comes from the online marketplace – such as Craig’sList.com. A popular scam, Wardlow said, is for someone to overpay for an item listed for sale. For example, a person wants to sell an item for $300, but the scammer sends  bogus $500 check. The scammer will then call to ask that the extra $200 be refunded because the check was written wrong.

Identity theft is also a huge and ongoing scam, Wardlow said. People need to protect their personal information, especially their Social Security Number, so that no one can open fraudulent credit card accounts or take out loans in an unsuspecting victim’s name.

The attorney general’s office has a program called credit freeze, also known as security freeze, which allows a Hoosier to place a freeze on credit reports to block an identity thief from opening a new account or obtaining credit in a victim’s name. The freeze keeps new creditors from accessing the intended victim’s credit report without the victim’s permission. There is no charge for the service, and the freeze can be lifted if the consumer wants to apply for a loan or credit card.

Ten common scams in which con artists steal money are the Nigerian bank scams, advance free loan scams, lottery scams, phishing emails, overpayment scams, disaster relief scams, credit repair scams, work from home scams, home repair scams and “free” trial offer scams.

For more information about consumer protection services and what to do if you or a family member are victimized by a scammer, go online to www.indianaconsumer.com.