Randy Wyrick

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October 3, 2013
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Scams on the rise as scammers sweep through area

EAGLE COUNTY — Imagine Jane’s excitement when she returned from a few weeks in Hawaii, cracked open her mailbox and pulled out a $4,000 check written out to her. Then imagine her amusement when she tried to cash it, and the bank told her it was a scam.

Jane (who asked that her last name not be used) wasn’t scammed, although many have tried. She said her phone rings constantly and her mailbox is full of letters such as the check. She said she doesn’t know how these people found her, but she does know this: She’s been around long enough to know that if something sounds too good to be true, it is. She said she doesn’t want to hassle with any more of these scammers.

When her young grandson headed off to college he placed a Craigslist ad for a roommate. One of the replies came from a scammer posing as a young woman who sent along a photo and mailed him a $3,500 check, asking if he could cash it and send it by Western Union so she could get her car out of storage.

He’s young, and he did it.

It was a hoax, of course, and the bank nailed him for the $3,500 — a high price for the mistake.

“Don’t give anyone your bank account number, your Social Security number or any other personal information,” said Mike McWilliam, an investigator with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

There are all kinds of ways to find personal information, and just as many creative ways to use it against you, McWilliam said.

“Technology increases the chances for you becoming the target of a scam. People can find information on Facebook and any number of other sources, and use it,” McWilliam said. “Most people figure it out. If they forward it to us, we send it to the FBI,” McWilliam said. “It’s hard to do something criminally with it. It’s tough to go to the Bahamas to arrest someone.”

Cadillacs and gift cards

The scammers trying to separate Jane from her money keep getting more creative.

One scammer calling himself Bill Carter wanted Jane to send them a Walmart card. Bill said if she did, they’d send her a Cadillac.

Those calls came for a few weeks as they sweetened the deal: For a $450 Wal-Mart card, they’d send her $2.5 million and a Mercedes.

Then there was the guy who told her he wanted to discuss her credit card interest rate. She never, ever pays interest on her credit cards, and neither should anyone else, she cautioned.

“They’ve been calling me for months. It was every other day for a while,” Jane said.

As a last ditch effort, a guy saying he was calling from Jamaica told her, “You’re such a nice lady. Won’t you send me $100 for my son’s operation?”

Jane is easily amused, but not easily fooled and, of course, didn’t go for any of it. She did tell them she might send a Walmart card when the Mercedes rolled into her driveway with $2.5 million in cash in it.

“Every couple weeks they come up with something new,” she said.

Duped grandparents

In another local case, scammers got a teenager’s cell phone number and called the grandparents on the East Coast. They had all sorts of personal information, and the caller sounded like their grandchild crying for help, telling a story about getting on the wrong bus and ending up stranded and jailed in a southern state. The distraught grandparents called the teen’s mom, who told them their grandchild was sleeping away a summer morning. They were relieved, but had already wired the scammers thousands of dollars.

Scams to watch out for

The Internet Crime Complaint Center reports $11 million in scam losses last year, more than half from Americans 50 and older.

Con artists have found that fear and intimidation can be profitable, writes Sid Kirchheimer, author of “Scam-Proof Your Life,” published by AARP Books.

In an article in AARP magazine, Kirchheimer said some of their new favorites are:

The hit-matn scam: Pay or die. The scammers tell you there’s a contract on your life, but a payoff can get it canceled. Scammers collected almost $2 million in 2012.

Imposters at the door: Scammers will email, call or come to your door demanding personal data or immediate payment of a fine. Legitimate agencies don’t operate this way, Kirchheimer said.

Shutoff Shakedown: As winter approaches, bogus threats roll in that your utilities are about to be shut off, Kirchheimer writes. Scammers often use special computer software to falsely display the utility company’s name and phone number on your caller ID, Kirchheimer writes. Utilities will mail several past-due notices.

“Don’t open the door. They would never send a thug to collect,” Kirchheimer writes.

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The VailDaily Updated Oct 4, 2013 12:26PM Published Oct 4, 2013 05:47PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.