TONICA — While thousands of people lose money to Internet and telephone scams every year, scams continue to be considered a low-risk crime — mainly because many go unreported, and scammers are difficult to track down and prosecute.
Tonica Police Chief David Woolford helped provide some advice on how to protect yourself against the top scams which have been reported in this area:
1. Grandparent scam
This scam plays on the hearts of an older adult. The scammer calls and says, “Hi, Grandma or Grandpa.” Then waits for the person to say a grandchild’s name before taking on that identity.
The scammer will then have an urgent unforeseen problem and ask for money.
“Anybody receiving any calls about a relative being incarcerated or needing money should call another family member and verify the situation first,” Woolford said.
Some red flags to listen for are the urgency, when they say not to tell anyone and when they ask to wire money.
Do not give personal information over the phone and do not send money. The situation can also be verified by calling the jail where the relative is supposedly detained.
2. IRS imposter
The scammer will call and say taxes are owed, and it can be taken care of by making the payment. If the person refuses, the scammer will threaten with legal action, sometimes saying there will be an arrest warrant put out if the money is not paid.
Residents who actually owe taxes will always be notified through a letter in the mail.
“They will not call you on the phone and tell you you’re delinquent in your taxes,” Woolford said.
3. Tech support
The scammer will call and say they are tech support with Windows or Microsoft, and viruses have been detected on the computer. The scammer will give a website to go to and ask to follow the instructions.
This downloads a virus in your computer and then the scammer can get information like passwords and user names. They will also use that information to hold data ransom; spy on you through the webcam; or possibly get into your bank accounts.
Sometimes there won’t be a call but rather a message in an email or a pop-up. Don’t click on any unsolicited pop-ups, emails or websites. If you’ve given permission and then realize it’s a scam, shut off your computer immediately and call the police department to make a report.
4. Internet fraud
There are a variety of ways scammers can get people online.
One is a pop-up browser on the computer telling them to download an anti-virus program when it’s actually downloading a virus that will take personal information.
A second one is through an email/phishing scam, when a scammer will send an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate company and asks to verify information. They then take the information to steal an identity or get into personal accounts.
A third is through a gift voucher scam that involves getting an email from a company, such as McDonald’s and offering a free gift card when a link is clicked. The scammer is trying to install malware or virus on your computer to your personal information, or they may just ask you for your personal information.
With banks and credit card companies switching to chipped cards, scammers will also call and send emails asking someone to click on a website to get information. Banks and credit card companies will never email or call you to verify information.
Never answer an email asking for all your information and don’t click a link without knowing what it is. Go to that company’s website and inquire if the email or pop-up is legitimate.
5. Sweepstakes and lottery scam
The scammer will contact a person by phone, email or text and tell them that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes.
You will be told you’re going to have to make some kind of payment to get the prize. Sometimes they’ll send you a check and ask you to send the money back for fees or taxes. The check will bounce, and you will be out the money. Never send money anywhere for a prize.
6. Law enforcement warrants
“Another prevalent scam we’ve been hearing about in this area is someone calling and saying they’re from a law enforcement agency; there’s a warrant out for your arrest; and you need to make a payment. If there’s a warrant for your arrest, we’re not going to call to tell you about it, we’ll just show up,” Woolford said.
He also said many scammers ask for payment via gift cards, and once you provide them with the numbers of the cards, they can immediately start shopping with them.
“No matter what the scam is, call and verify things first before providing any information,” Woolford said.