Getting scammed is easier than you think

Franklin County Sheriff's Office offers tips to avoid fraudulent phone calls, emails, websites

By Kristina Belcher, Published:

It’s likely happened to you — a call from a strange number offering you a credit card or claiming you owe money.

You may be able to pinpoint a scam in an instant. But Sheriff Pat Melton said that isn’t the case for many Franklin County residents.

“Some of these guys are real smooth talkers,” Melton said.

Just last year, a local woman was scammed out of $60,000, Melton said. Now they’re hoping to educate others to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“We just don’t want anybody to fall victim to that,” Melton said. “The main thing to remind everybody is that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Several scammers have been targeting Franklin County businesses and residents. This year, the Sheriff’s Office has already received more than a dozen scam complaints.

Melton said certain factors could mean you’re more at risk.

“They love to prey on our elderly,” Melton said. “They consider them easy targets.”

Prosecuting these criminals can be tricky.

“A lot of these are originating overseas,” Melton said. “We’ve got to be very, very careful on how we do it and what we do.”

To combat these difficulties, Melton hopes people can learn to recognize a scam before they fall victim.

“The M.O. is pretty consistent on all these,” Melton said. “Anyone who asks you to send them something up front … that’s not going to be true.”

Melton said people should never give their social security number or other private information to anyone. He also suggests doing some legwork to verify information if it doesn’t sound legitimate.

This can be easier said than done. Many scammers have even set up professional-looking websites.

Also, though it may sound obvious, Melton said a gut feeling is often the first sign of a scam.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s right,” Melton said.

The Sheriff’s Office released these descriptions of some of the most common types of scams in this area:

Criminal fine, child porn on computer

The fraudster will call the victim and claim to be a member of local law enforcement or the FBI. They will state that the victim has a criminal fine that is due or that there is child pornography on the victim’s computer and in order to avoid jail, he or see must pay the fine via money transfer service.

Advance fee/prepayment

Scammers pose as representatives from phony loan companies and use authentic-looking documents, emails, and websites to appear legitimate. They charge “fees” in advance of making loans. Consumers pay, but the loans never come through. Scammers are long gone and they sometimes regularly change the name of their “businesses” to avoid law enforcement.

Mystery shopping 

Mystery shopping scams are popular with criminals who target employment websites. The ploy’s simple: Scammers send victims a check and tell them to use the funds to “evaluate” Western Union’s money transfer service. Victims wire the money only to find out later that the checks bounce and they’re responsible for paying the bank back.

Overpayment 

With overpayment scams, fraudsters play the role of buyer and target consumers selling a service or product. The “buyer” sends the seller a legitimate-looking check, usually drawn on a well-known bank, for an amount higher than the agreed-upon price. They concoct an explanation for this overpayment and instruct the seller to deposit the check and wire back the excess funds. Weeks later, the victim learns the check is fake, but is still on the hook to pay the bank back for any money withdrawn.

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