Police: Beware of phone scams

Published 11:52 pm Friday, October 14, 2011

Laura Cortez was suspicious when she got the call on Friday afternoon.

“They called asking for my mother,” she said. “I told him she’d passed away and he said ‘that’s OK. She won $1.3 million in a lottery and you can claim the prize.”

Cortez said she knew at that point the call was a scam, but she kept talking, trying to get more information.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“He told me that I had to pay $1,350 in taxes and fees to claim the prize and that an anonymous donor had paid the $1,000,” she said. “All I had to do was go to CVS and get a green dot cash card and call him back … they’d be on the way to my house that afternoon with the prize money.”

She said the caller was persistent, even insistent, and continued to call her and pressure her to purchase the cash card. “He was specific about what it needed to be,” she said.

Finally, he stopped calling. She tried to call back, and couldn’t get through.

And she called the police.

“I’m not doing this for myself,” she said Friday. “I recognize what it was. But I’m worried about other people in this area …

“They knew about my mother, they had specific information about her, and I worry that they’ll do the same to others.”

Sgt. Benny Scarbrough of the Troy Police said the scam Cortez encountered isn’t unusual. “We get a lot of those,” he said.

And they’re becoming more prevalent. From Internet schemes promising cash rewards to phone calls promising a gift card to a retailer if the recipient simply pays a transaction fee, con artists are creative and pervasive.

“I tell people that if they truly won something, they won’t have to pay for it,” Scarbrough said. “That, and the IRS isn’t going to contact you via email and try to give you money. It’s not going to happen.”

Scarbrough said enforcement is difficult for local police. Callers are often from other states, even other countries, and tracking down the scams requires intricate understanding of how they work.

“It’s very difficult for us to do anything about this from a police standpoint,” he said. “For us, the preventative is much more effective than the enforcement angle.”

That’s why the police reach out to residents and warn them of scams, particularly senior citizens or others who are often targets of the phony calls. “As a group, senior citizens need to be aware… you have to be very cautious if people call you and want you to give them money for something,” he said.

Scarbrough said the Federal Trade Commission provides consumer fraud services. “You can contact them online and report a scam or ask questions or call them,” he said. “They have a much broader investment arm then we do and the jurisdiction to reach out across states.”

The website is www.ftc.gov.

Cortez finds the situation frustrating and concerning. “I don’t know if they’re targeting people in this area or not, but people need to know about it.”