Almost like clockwork, someone who lost money to a scam or identity theft files a police report nearly every week in Delaware County.
Sometimes the financial loss is considerable – even devastating to many.
One resident lost $3,000 after receiving a phone call claiming a warrant was out for the victim’s arrest.
Another lost $11,000 after receiving an online message that a bank card had been compromised.
Another lost $20,000 to a scammer who had claimed the money was needed to obtain a large sweepstakes prize.
Capt. Adam Moore of the Delaware Police Department said many scams have common themes, and basic precautions should be taken to avoid them.
“A lot of the crimes that we deal with are the crimes we’ve always dealt with. It’s just the way that they do them has changed,” he said. “There are steps you can take to limit your risk, and that’s what we encourage people to do. Know who you’re sending money to. Know who you’re giving your information to. … Don’t give your information over the phone.”
A number of common scams use the internet to prey on victims, and scammers’ fondness for gift cards is another 21st-century innovation, Moore said.
Gift cards are honored by the businesses that sell them, but scammers try to use them as common currency, demanding that scam victims hand over gift cards or their identifying numbers, he said.
“I don’t know any government institution that would call you up and say, ‘Hey, we have a warrant for your arrest. You need to go to Walmart and get Walmart gift cards and send them to us, and that will take care of your fine,’ ” Moore said.
Paola T. Groom with the AARP in Washington, D.C., was equally direct.
“No government organization will call you out of the blue and ask you to pay for a fee with prepaid gift cards,” Groom said. “If someone you have never met asks you for payment in a peer-to-peer app (like Zelle or Venmo, for example), cryptocurrency, wire transfer or a prepaid gift card, it’s a scam.”
Moore said people fall for the arrest-warrant scam because they don’t understand how the legal system works.
With a real arrest warrant, he said, uniformed officers will deliver the warrant in person. A real warrant directs the defendant to appear in court, in person, he said.
Any real arrest warrant will be preceded by some other legal action, such as a defendant receiving a summons or being issued a traffic ticket, he said.
“You can’t pay and just make (a real arrest warrant) disappear. Even if you post a bond, you will appear in court somewhere,” Moore said.
A common theme among identity thieves is to trick the victim into supplying a Social Security number or bank-account information, Moore said.
When individuals contact government agencies or banks, they could be asked to provide such information, he said.
But when someone receives an unsolicited contact of any kind that requests such information, it’s virtually guaranteed to be a scam, Moore said.
Emails that pretend to be from widely known businesses or services also are a favorite trick of scammers, he said. One way to spot them is to look at the email address used to send the message because fake emails use addresses that usually have no similarity to those used by legitimate businesses, Moore said.
Groom offered several tips for avoiding scams of all types.
“Do not pick up your phone unless you absolutely know who it is. Scammers can spoof phone numbers to make them look like it’s a local number or government number. Do not trust caller ID. Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no one has opened credit in your name. Think about a robocall blocker for your phone. … Make sure to never give out any personal or financial information over the phone to anyone who calls you,” Groom said.
In another common scam, Moore said, the scammer sends the victim a large check, instructing the victim to deposit the check and return part of the money. The scammer’s check is fraudulent and will bounce, he said.
Some victims are scammed by what they believe are online friends, often met on social media, Moore said.
After the scammer gains the victim’s trust, the scammer will use one of a number of approaches to get the victim to send the scammer money, he said, and the online “friend” then disappears.
In another type of scam, a window appears on a computer screen, making some false claim and instructing the victim to call a telephone number, Moore said. This can occur only if a computer has been hacked, and the phone number will lead the caller to a scammer, he said.
Although anyone could be targeted by a scam, Moore and Groom said scammers like to target older people in particular.
Moore suggests people urge their older relatives to never give anyone money online and never give out personal information to an unsolicited email or during an unsolicited phone call.
“The more you can talk about it (with older relatives), the better,” he said.
Similar advice could be used to protect one’s credit-card information, Moore said. Don’t use the card information over the telephone or give the information to “anyone you don’t know,” he said.
The AARP devotes a webpage – tinyurl.com/2hydtrj4 – to scams.
Common scams include alleged COVID-19 funerals, fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, phony tax preparers, fake threats from the IRS and fake stimulus checks, the website says.
Moore said anyone who has been scammed should contact police as quickly as possible. In some cases, he said, banks have been able to stop payment on checks sent to scammers if the victims act quickly.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission urges victims to report scams to ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc.
Moore said Delaware police for weeks have taken scores of reports from people whose identity had been used by others to file fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, usually related to the pandemic. Some whose identities were used have received tax statements for the payments received by those committing such fraud.
Tom Betti with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services office of communications said the scam has been widespread across the nation.
The Columbus Dispatch reported May 17 that Ohio had paid out roughly $2.1 billion in unemployment benefits to fraudsters or people who had received overpayments.
Interim ODJFS director Matt Damschroder on May 21 said 318,300 such identity thefts were reported in the state.
“ODJFS is actively investigating suspected fraudulent claims, and we are working closely with the U.S. Department of Labor,” he said. “ODJFS has implemented new fraud-detection methods and is partnering with private-sector experts to combat fraud and protect taxpayer dollars.”