The Easthampton Police Department frequently receives calls from residents concerned about suspicious telephone calls and scams. These fraudulent activities and scams are not unique to our community, and unfortunately they have become quite common.
If you have received a telephone call, email or request that seems suspicious, we encourage you to contact Easthampton Police and report it. The best advice is do not release any personal or financial information to someone whom you do not trust, or to someone whose identity you are unsure of.
According to the Better Business Bureau, the top schemes this past year were:
#5 – Fake government grants “sold” to consumers
#4 – Fake tech support
#3 – Fake sweepstakes seeking a small fee to collect a larger prize
#2 – Aggressive debt collectors
#1 – People pretending to be with the Internal Revenue Service
It is good to know what schemes are out there, and it is important to keep in mind that con artists are always changing their tactics to try and trip people up. Therefore, it is important that you always keep an open mind and question anything that doesn’t seem right. Only give information out on a phone call that you initiated. If you think a call might be legitimate, ask to call them back.
Below are some of the more common scams being reported to police:
Scammers make up an urgent situation – I’ve been arrested, I've been mugged or I'm in the hospital – and target friends and family with pleas for help and money.
The grandparent scam is one version of the emergency scam: A young person poses as a grandchild with an emergency and appeals to family members to help them immediately. Don't believe everything you hear, and be sure to verify the emergency situation before you give them any contact information, and especially before you send any money.
Another variation is the relationship scam: You meet a great person online, everything seems to be going great but you aren't able to meet yet for any variety of reasons (distance, military deployment, work travel, etc.). Suddenly your online love interest has an emergency and needs you to wire money, and as soon as you do, he or she will continue to find more reasons to ask for money from you. Remember, you should never wire money to someone that you don't personally know or trust or haven't met in person.
Arrest Warrant Scams
Scammers create a phony caller ID, which allows them to call you and appear to be calling from a local police, sheriff or other law enforcement agency. They say there is a warrant out for your arrest, but that you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges.
Another common scheme is for scammers to call claiming they are with the Internal Revenue Service, saying that an arrest warrant will be issued if you fail to make payment on back taxes.
Of course, these scammers don't take credit cards – only a Western Union Moneygram, other wire transfer or pre-paid debit card will do.
Overpayment and Fake Check Scams
With overpayment scams, fraudsters play the role of buyer and target consumers selling a product or service. It usually works this way: The buyer "accidentally" sends you a check for more than the amount they owe you. They ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then wire them the difference. A deposited check can take several days or more to clear. When the original check turns out to be a fake and bounces, the victim is still on the hook to pay the bank back for any money withdrawn.
Fake checks can be used for any type of scam, so always wait for a deposit to clear before writing checks against the funds.
Advance Fee/Prepayment Scams
In challenging economic times, many people are looking for help getting out of debt or hanging on to their home. Scammers pose as representatives from phony loan companies and use authentic-looking documents, emails and websites to fool consumers into parting with their money. Some sound like a government agency, or even part of the Better Business Bureau or other nonprofit consumer organizations. Most ask for an up-front fee to help you deal with your mortgage company, creditors or the government (services you could do yourself for free), but leave you in more debt than when you started.
They all have a common theme: Victims pay a smaller amount of money in anticipation of something of greater value, but then you receive nothing in return. You should not send a wire transfer to receive a loan or a credit card.
"Phishing" is when you receive an email telling you that you've won a contest or that a company needs to verify personal information. Links in the email can take you to a site that downloads a virus on your computer to hunt for your sensitive data. Virus protection software on your computer can help, but the best protection is a good sense of judgment.
Legitimate companies and government agencies are not going to ask you to confirm your personal information in this way. Be wary of links in social media also. Some apps, humorous websites, contests or links to shocking videos are just distractions to get you to click on something that downloads malware onto your computer.
Lottery or prize scams
These scams follow two similar patterns:
1) Victims get an unsolicited phone call, email, letter or fax from someone claiming to work for a government agency or representing a well-known organization or celebrity, notifying them that they've won a lot of money or a prize. The scammer gains their trust and explains that, in order to collect the winnings, they first have to send a small sum of money to pay for processing fees or taxes. Following these instructions, victims immediately wire the money, but never get their "winnings." And they're out the money they paid for "fees and taxes."
2) Victims get an unsolicited check or money order and directions to deposit the money, and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover processing fees or taxes. Soon after this, victims learn that the checks are counterfeit, but have already wired the money to cover the "taxes" and can't get it back. And they're on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew.
Identity Theft Scams
There are a million ways to steal someone's identity and once thieves have your personal information, they can max out your credit cards, drain your bank account, and ruin your credit rating.
Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes – friends or grandchildren "stranded" in a foreign country, the hotel front desk "verifying" your credit card in the middle of the night, "charity" solicitations from groups you've never supported in the past.
Never, ever give your Social Security/Social Insurance, bank account or credit card numbers to someone who has contacted you to ask for them.
Home Improvement Scams
Look out for home improvement contractors who leave your home worse than they found it. They usually knock on your door with a story or a deal – the roofer who can spot some missing shingles on your roof, the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give you a great deal on driveway resealing. Roaming contractors who move around, keeping a step ahead of the law... and angry consumers.
In closing, these are just a sampling of the various scams out there. Easy rule of thumb – be wary of offers or inquiries that require your personal information up front, sound too good to be true or just don’t seem right. If you receive such a call, email or inquiry, please contact Easthampton Police and report it! Also, if you have given out personal or financial information to someone whom you do not know or trust, download a free identity theft booklet HERE.