Local police have seen a spike in the number of scamming victims in Gardner. According to Sgt. Lee Kraut, police have investigated reports of four incidents in the last two weeks.
“For us as a small agency, to see that many in a couple of weeks, to us, that’s a huge upswing,” he said.
The schemes are familiar. In one scheme, known as a lottery scam, victims receive a phone call – typically from someone with a foreign accent – advising the victim they’ve won a prize or lottery. In order to claim the prize however, the victim will be asked to pay taxes or paperwork fees first using either a money gram or a green dot card.
Any stranger asking for money via Money Gram or Green Dot card should send up a red flag to potential victims, Kraut explained.
“They’re almost impossible to track,” he said. “… Money gram seems to be a very common denominator. Never send anyone money over (Money Gram) unless you know the person you’re sending the money to.”
In another con, swindlers will call grandparents saying their grandchild or loved one is in jail overseas and needs cash to make bond. Typically, the scammers are able to use the correct names of family members and loved ones supposedly imprisoned.
“(Scammers) know what they’re doing,” Kraut said. “It’s their job.”
And evading law enforcement is part of the gig. Using throw-away cell phones, swindling others from across state and international borders, receiving mail and packages at foreclosed homes, and using fake identifications, the scammers are very difficult to trace and prosecute.
“You track it as much as you can, but it’s almost always a dead end,” Kraut said. “There’s just nothing to track.”
Swindlers are also using Craigslist and Ebay to cheat victims. In another recent scam, a local man attempted to sell his car using Craigslist. He received a call from an out-of-town person asking the seller to contact his agent about purchasing the car. They buyer will send a check for much more than the selling price of the vehicle, and then request that the seller send the extra money to an agent or purchasing broker. When the original check bounces, the car seller is out the money, and never hears from the buyer again about arrangements to ship the car.
“Most banks won’t help out too much on this, because (the seller) voluntarily sent the money,” Kraut said.
Again, police are typically unable to trace the scammer, but citizens can help themselves.
Before sending money in a car purchase or selling scam, Kraut suggests individuals should Google the phone number they’re given or the email address they receive from the potential buyer or seller. If it’s a scam, the number or address will likely show up in numerous, identical Craigslist ads.
“The people are doing this to multiple people in multiple states,” Kraut explained.
Scammers are also using Ebay for similar swindles. However, Ebay will usually refund money if buyers and sellers follow their rules exactly. That typically means using a Paypal account.
For Craigslist, Kraut advises only doing face-to-face transactions locally. “That’s what it was designed for,” he said.
He recommends taking a friend along to meet buyers or sellers and to meet in public places, and even at a police station if that’s where an individual feels most comfortable.
The recent scams, Kraut said, have just targeted elderly or disabled people.
“This has covered a wide range of people,” he said. “Everyone falls for something sometime.”