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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Citizens Urged to Be Alert for Fraud 

Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock.com
The Federal Communications Commission advises people not to answer calls from unknown numbers.

By Christopher South

COURT HOUSE – In the first seven months of the year, Middle Township Police Department (MTPD) has received 79 reports of fraud attempts on residents in the township.

Not all of them resulted in a loss, but the police and Cape May Prosecutor’s Office are trying to help prevent citizens from becoming the victims of phone scams or other fraud.

MTPD Capt. Tracey Super said there is really no shortage of examples of reports of fraud attempts – and even successful fraud cases.

“We have seen some over $100,000,” he said.

In one such case, the scammers told the victim they had won a substantial prize and even sent the victim a gift. Many times, Super said, the scammers will tell the victim they have to pay taxes on a prize. Someone ended up losing $140,000 in such a scam.

Super said another common ploy is that a caller will claim to be from the IRS and tell the victim they owe taxes and there is a warrant out for their arrest. What people should know is that the IRS never calls people regarding owed taxes and never asks for payment over the telephone. 

Neither will U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Super said people might get a call from a police department, perhaps in Canada or Mexico, which says a young family member is there and needs money for some reason, perhaps to pay a fine, or that they have been in an accident and need money.

“They might even have a young person in the background crying and say they are too upset to speak on the phone,” Super said.

According to Super, the scammers will usually target an older person and claim they are calling about a granddaughter, for example. And scams are being perpetrated all the time.

The MTPD typically speaks at AARP meetings a couple times a year and talks about scams so people don’t get bilked out of money. He said some of the scammers use fear as a method for getting money, such as telling the victim there is a warrant out for their arrest and the police will be coming to their house within the hour to arrest them.

“First of all, we don’t call anyone and ask for money for a warrant,” Super said, “and we don’t take payments in gift cards, especially not over the phone. The courts wouldn’t do it either.”

Callers might direct the victim to purchase Amazon, Maple, or Green Dot gift cards, for example, which Super said they would never do. 

In one case, a caller claiming to be with a police department from outside the county wanted the victim to pay fines using bitcoin. He said callers will ask people to stay on the line while they go to Target, Walmart, or Walgreens to buy gift cards or visit a bitcoin ATM.

Super said of the 79 reports regarding fraud attempts over the last seven months, often it was a caller who did not fall for the scam but was just advising the police of the attempt. 

He said sometimes people will get a strange call and just reach out to the local police and let them know. He said if someone calls and claims to represent a government agency, call that agency directly and check to see if they tried to contact you. 

People might also want to go to IC3.gov, which is the Internet Crime Complaint Center set up by the FBI. There, a person is able to learn about trends in internet theft or file a complaint. Super said a lot of time, the MTPD will refer callers to IC3 to get their complaints in the system.

Super said even the local police have a hard time telling where a so-called “spoof” call originates. Spoof calls are those where the origin has been disguised and it might even suggest that the call is from a police department or the IRS. 

Super said episodes of “phishing,” where a scammer attempts to look like a legitimate, recognizable business, are carried out using a virtual proxy network (VPN) and the message bounces all over the nation, making it very difficult to track.

The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office website says that there have been spoof phone calls made from people claiming to be with some county office, including the prosecutor’s office, demanding payment for an active warrant. The prosecutor advises people who get these calls to hang up immediately.

“Cape May County authorities will not reach out to individuals via telephone demanding payment for warrants (or any other cause), over the telephone,” the site says. 

In addition, the prosecutor’s office shares the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tips for dealing with spoofed calls:

* Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.

* If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.

* Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “yes” or “no.”

* Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords, or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.

* If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.

* Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.

* If you have a voicemail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voicemail if you do not set a password.

Any individuals who are in doubt of the authenticity of a phone call should contact their local police department or the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-465-1135.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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