The old adage of “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” could be used to stop nearly any scam that sets out to gain money, but people continue to lose thousands of dollars to the same kinds of scams.
Whether it’s winning a supposed lottery, getting paid too much for an item sold online or giving a bank account or credit card number to someone over the phone, there are dozens of ways scammers claim their loot.
Recently, phone calls to people about a problem with their banks accounts has been the most popular scam in the area, but checks for fake lotteries are also still reported.
“It seemed like an onslaught of a little bit of everything in the last week or so,” Det. Sgt. Chuck Vogely of the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department said of the reports he’s received.
With fake lotteries, people receive an authentic looking check for their winnings and are told to deposit the check and use a money order or MoneyGram to cover certain taxes and processing fees.
Vogely received a report from a local resident who lost about $40,000 in a lottery scam.
Many other scams ask for MoneyGrams for payment of taxes and fees or for the purchase of an item — likely one that never existed — sold online.
“I would not trust any wire transfer or MoneyGram of any kind,” Vogely said.
Unlike a check or other form of payment, MoneyGrams can be received at any location that handles them and all that’s needed is the control number.
In one local case, a man bought a tractor for sale online that was supposedly in Dunkirk, but the tractor was really in Alabama and had been picked at random by the scammer.
The local man sent a MoneyGram to pay for the tractor, and the funds were received in New York City.
Another common scam which uses MoneyGrams involves someone being asked to be a secret shopper for a store chain.
The person receives a check to deposit in their bank account and spend at a store, and then get a MoneyGram to return the unspent amount.
The check is fake, so not only is the victim out the money they spent for the merchandise, but also the rest of the check balance and bad check fee.
Locally, one person lost about $5,000 with a secret shopper scam.
“They can counterfeit about anything,” Vogely said of the checks and other documents sent to victims.
One more scam targets vacant homes for sale.
A scammer finds the listing and puts the home up for rent, once again, with advanced rent payments collected electronically.
The unfortunate tenant then arrives to find the house is not for rent and the money already paid is never recovered.
Another scam involves a letter or e-mail which tells the victim there is a contract out on their life and if they pay a certain amount with a wire transfer or MoneyGram, they will not be killed.
One local resident received such a threat, went to police and received some extra patrols near his house, but police assured him it was a scam.
He never paid the bill, and the e-mail he received was traced to an Internet server in Mexico.
“Needless to say, he’s still alive,” Vogely said of the man.