Consumers should be aware of scams floating around the area

Scam artists are sneaky and convincing, but common sense is the best defense against their treacherous ways of draining someone’s hard-earned savings.

“If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If someone actually does win the lottery, winners are not going to have to pay any money back in to receive their winnings,” said Brandon Presley, Northern District Public Service Commissioner.

Presley’s office has recently received reports of a scam supposedly operating through Reader’s Digest in which someone receives verification they’re a prize winner of large sums of money. The downside of the offer is the winner must send a certain amount of money to reimburse Reader’s Digest for all the handling, insurance and tax fees.

Reader’s Digest is one of several legitimate companies scam artists hide behind to prey on the unknowing public. These scams also incorporate reputable bank names in with the information package and checks that seem so real, even bank tellers can be deceived.

When receiving suspicious letters, it’s important to report them to the state attorney general’s office.

“We usually ask consumers to file a complaint and from there all the information included in the letter – return addresses and phone numbers – will open doors for us to proceed to track down those responsible,” said Jan Schaefer, public information officer with the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.

Though fines vary for those behind different scams, the amount they’re forced to pay when caught can be very costly.

The Public Service Commission just stamped a $450,000 fine on a group soliciting false automobile warranty claims throughout Mississippi.

“We’ve been receiving more calls lately from people reportedly winning the lottery through a Jamaican lottery scam. It targets the elderly and they’re asked to send moneygrams of $500, $1,000 and $2,000 before they can collect their supposed $2.2 million worth of winnings. The culprits convince them to not listen to what their children say about staying away from this lottery and they ask them to keep sending more and more money,” Presley said.

In 2008, Americans spent $30 million to supposedly claim their winnings from this scam.

“The best thing to do when in doubt is just hang up the telephone. If someone is trying to get personal information out of you, never give it to them. Caller ID is also a good thing to have so people can report the telephone number to us if they receive suspicious calls,” Presley said.

Another up-and-coming scam to be wary of is cramming. Cramming entails features added to a consumer’s telephone service that they have not authorized.

“This problem can happen with all the different phone providers and people should pay close attention to their phone bills. Even if the charge is only 20 cents, the more and more people these companies rip off, the wealthier they get,” Presley said.

Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal