Itawambians should be wary of scammers

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

There’s an old, likely familiar adage that could save readers a lot of money and even more heartbreak:

“If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Lt. Brad Rogers of the Fulton Police Department.

Rogers said there are several different scams currently making the rounds in the Itawamba County area, trying to sucker people out of their hard-earned money.

According to Rogers, most of these are being conducted via phone calls generating from either overseas locations like Nigeria or Jamaica, or via Internet calling services.

Essentially, the callers are offering people deals that are too good to be true.

“They’re calling and they’re offering big dividends for low payout,” Rogers said.

According to Rogers, the scammers call and claim to be representatives of casinos or other lottery organizations. They claim the recipients of the call are winners and ask them to mail a money order or cashiers check for some relatively small amount of money to an address inside the continental U.S. These funds will then be transferred overseas.

“They’ll call and say, ‘Hey, you’ve won and if you send us $500, you win $50 million.”

Rogers said these groups will also send out large checks via commercial carriers like UPS or Fed Ex, never through the U.S. Postal Service, asking people to cash them and then send them a portion of the money while keeping the rest.

While most banks have the resources to bust these bogus checks, most private cash checking companies don’t have the same capabilities.

“They’re taking them to stores and attempting to pass them; they’re taking them to check cashing businesses; they’re taking them to banks,” Rogers said. “But banks are networked in where they can check the routing number and that check number and it will red flag that check. Mom and pop stores don’t have that capability.”

When that check turns out to bogus, guess who’s held responsible. Here’s a clue: It’s not the scammers.

“You’re left holding the bill for whatever you’ve done,” Rogers said. “When you cash that check, you are criminally and civilly liable for any damages.”

Another popular money scam involves using online auction or classified sites like Ebay and Craigslist. Usually, the scammers offer to purchase some item the victim has for sale for more than the listed price.

“Everything is gravitating toward online scamming through chat messages, social networking sites like Facebook and online auction sites,” he said.

Rogers described a typical example of these types of scams:

“Say you have a $20,000 item listed. They’ll agree to send you a check for $50,000 for that item, tell you to cash the check and send them $10,000 and keep the rest for your item, plus shipping.

“They’re trying to throw a sales pitch on everybody and see who catches,” he said. “They’re not looking for big scores; they’re looking for monetary amounts ranging from a couple of hundreds to a couple of thousands.”

Rogers said these types of scams are becoming more and more commonplace in the Itawamba County area. He said the department receives multiple calls about these types of scams every week.

“It’s becoming a bi-weekly occurrence that we, as law enforcement, are dealing with some kind of fraud,” Rogers said. “People in our area are falling for it every day and people report it every day.

“We’ve had people in this area hit for $6,000 or $7,000 in the last year,” Rogers added. “It’s getting progressively worse.

This is where that old adage comes in. It always pays to err on the side of caution. If someone’s offering something for nothing, or big payout for little investment, always be suspicious.

“Just because you get a check in the mail and it has a legitimate company listed on it, doesn’t mean it’s good,” Rogers said. “Take that check to your local bank and have them check its status before attempting to cash it. Don’t run to a check cashing place and try to cash them. It looks real, it feels real, the names match up, but the numbers don’t.”

Rogers added that no one should ever give out his or her personal information over the phone or via email links.

“Your bank, your Medicare or Medicaid, your credit card company, does not suddenly need your personal information,” Rogers said. “They already have that. Don’t ever respond directly to any emails or phone calls asking for personal information. Always go to the site yourself if you want to check and call the local branches of your banks.”

And, of course, always report suspicious calls or emails to the local police.

adam.armour@journalinc.com