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Spotting frauds and scams in Utah County

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How many different ways are there for people to be scammed out of their money? A lot, according to police officers who work to find those who are committing fraud crimes in Utah County. Victims of these crimes are losing their hard-earned money and savings every day.

Online sales

With the amount of selling that occurs online, scams are becoming more and more frequent, according to Orem Police Department Sgt. Darcy Simmons. Just last week, a seller in Orem posted a couch for sale for $200. That seller ended up losing several hundred dollars more than that.

This is how it often works: The seller advertises an item, such as a car, for sale online. A buyer wants the car, but he says that he is currently in the military, overseas. Could he send a certified check for the amount of the car plus a couple of thousand more for the seller to pay a third party to transport? It sounds good. The seller gets the check, deposits it into the bank and all seems well. The seller then wires the extra $2,000 to a different account as directed to pay for the person to transport the car. A few days later, the seller’s bank informs that the certified check was actually a fake. The seller is out that $2,000, and of course, nobody shows up to pick up the car.

At least two of these types of crimes are reported to the Orem Police Department every week, according to Simmons. “Anytime you’re going to sell something online, you’ll get a scammer to respond,” he said.

According to Simmons, sellers should be wary of buyers who are not local or who make excuses, such as being in the military or out on a ship. Sending a check for more money than the item costs, as in the aforementioned scenario, is a red flag. “Just because the money was put into your account, doesn’t mean the check is good,” Simmons said. “Talk to the bank to find out what the turnaround time is.”

Checks, credit and debit card fraud

Fraud crimes involving credit and bank accounts are the most common types, according to Pleasant Grove Police Sgt. Shawn Nielson. “If someone can get a check from you, they can create another check with your routing number and bank account. Then they can go out and cash that check,” he said.

Scammers also open online bank accounts and credit cards, posing as another person. “We see those cases all the time. They are really difficult to investigate because they are sitting on a computer somewhere with your information,” Nielson said. “If they have the personal information of somebody with a good credit score, they can get credit in minutes.”

Others’ personal information is gained by scammers in a variety of ways, including websites and businesses being hacked. Checking financial accounts and credit reports often and using strong passwords are some ways to be protected from this type of identity theft. Nielson said that while online shopping, always make sure that the websites are secure.

Personal information is often given to a caller posing to be something they are not, such as a bank employee. “Always be suspicious. Never believe them at face value. If somebody calls and they want to get your information, always verify,” Nielson said. For example, call the bank and verify that the caller is actually an employee.

Too good to be true

Scams can come in the form of phone calls, emails, texts and messages on social media. “You’ve been chosen for this wonderful gift, whether it be a scholarship for thousands of dollars or you’ve been awarded a million dollars. All you have to do is pay the filing fee,” Nielson said. “I’ve had people that have lost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to these scams.”

Nielson said to be wary if you are asked to pay a fee to get money in return. Check into everything and ask questions. The old adage rings true. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Fear-based scams

Phone calls that are claimed to be from the Internal Revenue Service or local police departments are increasing, according to Nielson. The caller demands to be paid back taxes or for a warrant and they often want to be paid with gift cards — a red flag, according to Nielson.

Just this week on Provo Police Department’s Facebook page, a post read, “Have you received a call from someone identifying themselves as a Provo Police officer requesting payment for a warrant or advising your credit card has been used fraudulently? Well, that call is fraudulent! Provo Police officers will never call you and request you send in a payment. Do not, do not send a money order or gift cards! Rather, you will receive something in the mail from us or we will come visit you.”

Another scam that plants fear in the victim is often targeted at the elderly. “This is your grandson. I’ve been arrested,” says the caller. Then, the grandparent is asked to not tell other family members to save the grandson from embarrassment. They are often asked to purchase hundreds or thousands of dollars in gift cards, then call back with the gift card numbers. Simmons said that victims in Orem have lost as much as $10,000 to this type of scam.

Simmons advises people to talk to elderly family members about these types of phone calls. Make a plan that before complying with a phone call such as this, they will talk to a family member. Also, ask questions to the purported family member on the phone to determine if it is really him or her.

Skimmers

Skimming has been going on for several years, according to Simmons, and as technology changes, so do the skimmers. A skimmer is installed, illegally, inside a gas pump or an ATM machine. It reads the information from debit or credit cards and a camera will record the PIN. “These are usually installed around 4 or 5 a.m. and they return about 7 p.m. to pull data from the skimmers and the video from the cameras,” Simmons said.

“Skimmers are easy to get. They might be listed as something mundane online. There are many, many people out there building that kind of equipment,” Nielson said.

As with other types of fraud crimes, checking bank accounts often and being aware of anything that looks suspicious at ATMs or gas pumps can help to protect against becoming victims.

Protect yourself

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are things people can do to protect themselves from fraud. These include spotting someone who is pretending to be someone else, doing online searches to verify claims, don’t believe caller ID, don’t pay upfront for something in return, use credit cards with built-in fraud protection, talk to someone before giving your money, be skeptical about free trials, don’t deposit a check and wire money back, and sign up for free scam alerts at http://ftc.gov/scams.

Almost 100 fraud cases are reported to Orem’s Police Department monthly. Other Utah County cities are experiencing similar numbers of these crimes. “Be street smart, “ Simmons said. “If you feel something is not right, it probably isn’t.”

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