News

Caution: Con artists ahead

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

Scam artists are hard at work in Sequim.

Of course, scam artists are working hard everywhere in the world. But let’s face it. With a population that’s older, wealthier and just plain nicer than those found in many other locales, Sequim is a potential gold mine for those seeking ready victims.

Officer Maris Turner, who handles public information and crime prevention chores for the Sequim Police Department, says her office regularly hears from residents who are the targets — and sometimes the victims — of scam artists. She said the targets of the scams — the “marks” — are very often older, with some scams custom-designed to take advantage of seniors.

Some of the schemes are very sophisticated and very effective.

Turner sat down with the Gazette to provide several “real life” examples of scams attempted in Sequim.

Checks and balances
Recently one Sequim Jane Doe was surprised to receive in the mail a check for $4,600.73. This wasn’t just any check, but a cashier’s check drawn on PNC Bank of Pittsburgh, Pa., and made out in her name. It was signed, printed in full color on heavy stock, and it even had the bumps where it was torn along its perforations from the bank’s official checkbook.

PNC Bank is a real bank and the check was emblazoned with its logo.

There was only one catch: The person who sent it asked that some of the money be remitted. He included instructions with the check, asking Ms. Doe to cash it, then send a portion back.

Unfortunately, the check wasn’t real. The scam artist who sent this check — and surely dozens or hundreds more to potential victims across the U.S. — hoped a sufficient number of those who received it would successfully cash the check and return the money, thus turning a nice profit.

In the end, the banks are the victims, Turner said.

Turner called the check scam “the most popular, the most common” scam she sees. She has a stack of bogus checks in her office, and in addition, has a fake U.S. Postal Service money order that is an extraordinarily exact reproduction of the real thing. It features fine engraving, the complex color scheme of an original, and it even has the shimmering ribbon that is printed with special ink on post office money orders. The scam artists were clearly not just professionals, but professionals with the talent, time and money to invest in creating a flawless product.

Fortunately, Turner said, most banks now are aware of the scam and will refuse to cash a check before they investigate further its authenticity.

That’s good advice, too, she said, for those who receive them.

Cashing in on family
Turner said a month ago two Sequim seniors dropped by the police station with a sad story. Their grandson had been picked up by Canadian police and he was now being held. They were told he needed $8,000 to pay fines and bail or he would be shipped to prison immediately. In order to secure his release, the couple planned to wire the money to an account in Texas. From there the money would be forwarded to Canada and the teen would be released.

The older couple was suspicious because they had seen their grandson the day before in Sequim. As it happened, he was in town visiting his parents.

But they had good proof it wasn’t a scam: They actually had spoken with him on the phone earlier that day and he had confirmed he was in jail in Canada and needed the funds in order to be released.

Though they were nervous about involving the Sequim police, the grandfather decided to stop by the station, just to ask about the story. The Sequim Police, smelling a rat, called his parents’ home in Sequim and talked to the boy.

The grandparents had been so distraught and so eager to help they had been fooled into believing a stranger on the other end of the phone was in fact their grandson.

Turner said this scam — called the “grandparent” or “relative” scam — is becoming more and more common. She also said the amounts that are being requested are growing.

It works because “it pulls on the heartstrings,” Turner said.

“You should call someone,” she said. “Verify.”

E-mail scams
If you have an e-mail address, it is altogether likely you have been declared the lucky winner of a lottery. Or perhaps you’ve been contacted, in secret, by a Nigerian businessman who wants you as his partner in ferreting huge sums of cash out of his country.

Unfortunately, you’ll never collect.

Because it costs essentially nothing to send an e-mail to millions of people, e-mail scams have become very popular. Most people are now sophisticated enough to know certain rules: Never provide any personal information to anyone via e-mail. That includes bank account numbers or your Social Security number. They also know many scammers set up fake websites that look like the real thing to lure in victims.

But scammers always are coming up with new schemes.

Turner recently received an e-mail from someone she knows very well — a “block captain” in Neighborhood Watch — who wrote saying she was in trouble and needed funds immediately.

Turner said the block captain’s e-mail had been “taken over” by a scam artist and the e-mail had been remotely generated using the victim’s list of e-mail contacts.

Others victims are taken in by “friends” they meet on the Internet, including those making contact through “lonely hearts” websites.

Turner said that happened recently to a Sequim resident. “You get strung along,” Turner said. “‘Send me money,’ they say, ‘so I can get there sooner.’”

Face-to-face
Turner said Sequim recently was visited by a number of door-to-door magazine salesmen. “They would identify themselves as the grandchild of a neighbor or something like that,” Turner said. They told the customers they were selling books that would be delivered to needy children elsewhere.

Turner said there’s a simple way to judge the legitimacy of door-to-door salesmen: Ask to see their Sequim city license, which they must have in their possession, displayed prominently.

She recommended also checking the “time frame” of the license, saying they only are issued for a specific length of time. In order to get a license, door-to-door salesmen must undergo a background check performed by the city.

If they can’t show their license, “shut the door,” Turner said.

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

 

 

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