A new rash of scammers posing as officials has recently been in the news. Several months ago, we wrote about the dangers of what we called “government scams” where the con artists posed as census workers, IRS agents and court officials in order to steal both money and personal information.
Recently, several new variations of these scams have been brought to the public’s attention after being identified and in some cases busted. With these scammers, when one shop gets shut down it’s only a matter of time before another opens and tries to dupe potential victims with the same old tricks.
Here are some of the scams to look out for:
A recent blog from Bob Sullivan at MSNBC.com covered a ring of criminals using the identities of Federal Trade Commission officials in a country-wide scam. The fraudsters have done their homework; the phony identities used are former and current Federal Trade Commission employees, one case involved a scammer posing as a recently deceased press officer.
A Washington state building inspector, aged 67 years, was contacted by a Donald Clark of the Federal Trade Commissions “fraud division”. He claimed the agency was overseeing a sweepstakes. Before the half-a-million dollar prize could be delivered to the Washington state winner, the victim was instructed to wire $1,300 to cover the insurance on the prize delivery.
Wire transfers are normally featured in these scams, as they are non-refundable and not easily traced. The man also said he was more inclined to believe the caller due to the Washington, D.C. 202 area code left on the callback number, an official-sounding message left at the callback number claiming it was the voice mail of the FTC and the fact that his caller ID registered the call as originating from the Federal Trade Commission.
Internet-based telephone services are often used by con artists to create these type of illusions and can go so far as to choose what a caller ID box says when they reach a number that has one. Never trust your caller ID alone.
Betsy Broder, the FTC’s privacy and identify theft division head, expressed outrage in Mr. Sullivan’s article. “Our good name is being used to defraud people, and that's very disturbing," Ms. Broder said, “Some of our people have been very shaken up once they find out their personal names were used. ... This is particularly pernicious because it gives people a sense that this is legitimate and reliable."
POLICE SCAM HITS VICTIMS WHEN THEY’RE DOWN
Los Angeles police arrested several crooks earlier this year in a scam ring that would actually hit the victims twice, the second time while posing as police officers. Eight known incidents occurred in 2009, with the typically elderly victims being approached either at busy shopping center or on the street near their retirement communities.
The first part of the scam was a “good Samaritan” snare that we have covered a different version of previously here at Scamraiders. Potential victims were approached by a man with a phony accent claiming to be an African national desperate to get home. In order to spare his family from retribution, he was being forced to make a large donation to a particular organization before leaving. The scammer showed the victims a large amount of cash kept in a fanny pack, and then asked if they would make the donation for them with promises they could keep a small portion for their trouble.
Before the agreement is reached, a second scammer posing as a “good Samaritan” overhears and then offers to help too. He says he will take out cash and include it in the total as a show of good faith. The victim is then pressured to withdraw cash as well, to prove their good intentions and with the understanding they will get it all back and a bonus once it is time to make the donation.
At some point all the money would be combined and the “African national” would pray over it, in reality switching the fanny pack with another containing shredded newspapers. The victim was then left with the fanny pack filled with worthless scraps, the initial scammer would leave with the money and the second scammer would appear to be just as upset when the deceit was discovered.
The new wrinkle on this old scheme? The second scammer claims they are going to contact the police immediately and gets the victims address and telephone number. A week or two later, two more scammers would show up at the victim’s house claiming to be police detectives following up on the case. Dressed in plainclothes they would produce badges, flash their handcuffs and bully the victims into helping with their “investigation”.
The “detectives” claimed that the original scammer was apprehended, but that the cash the victim provided was counterfeit. The “policemen” would then escort the victims to the bank and demand they withdraw another large sum of money that could then be taken back to the police station and scanned to prove it wasn’t counterfeit. Saying they would return the money in a day or two after verifying its authenticity, the two “detectives” would take off with the second round of the victim’s cash and never be seen again.
It might sound ridiculous, but these men presented themselves as police officers and threatened the victims with promises or incarceration and a ransacking of their homes if they did not cooperate. Sadly, at least eight times, people did. Although this ring has been busted, it’s only a matter of time before another uses this ruse if they aren’t already.
These are just two of the newest scams involving criminals posing as trusted government officials in an effort to steal the hard-earned money of innocent victims. No matter how legitimately someone presents themselves as a “government official” if something seems off or sounds fishy, dig a little deeper. Doing so might just save you from getting scammed.