WALHALLA, SC (Oconee Co. Sheriff’s Office News Release) – In our continuing efforts to educate the citizens of Oconee County and to help in the efforts to prevent our citizens from becoming victims, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office is issuing this July 2017 scams update release.
The Sheriff’s Office first wants to update citizens on a program and a young lady who is working this summer for the Varsity Internship Program, which is a division of SCORE, LLC. Bethany Parr is working this summer in Oconee County for the college program where students show the Bible in Stories to families in their homes on a referral basis. It is through this program that students can earn college credits and earn money for tuition by taking orders from families.
“Bethany came by to visit us at the Sheriff’s Office several weeks ago and we want to let our citizens know that this program is legitimate and is not a scam,” says Jimmy Watt, Public Information Officer for the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. “Our mention of Bethany and the program is not an endorsement from the Sheriff’s Office and all citizens have the right to either purchase and/or receive information on this program if they choose to. We just want to remind our citizens that if they see or come in contact with Bethany that this is something legitimate. You can visit www.varsityinternshipprogram.com for more information.”
The Sheriff’s Office continues to hear and be made aware of Sweepstakes scams that our citizens are receiving. Back on May 31st, a deputy from the Uniform Patrol Division spoke with a citizen by telephone in regards to a phone call that the citizen received from an individual identified as John Baker who stated that he worked for Publisher’s Clearing House. The caller told the citizen that they had won $2.5 million dollars and a 2017 luxury vehicle. The citizen had multiple conversations with the supposed Baker subject and passed along to him personal and financial information.
Several days after that, the victim told the deputy about a letter received in the mail that instructed the victim to open a new bank account and to send $500. The Baker subject said that once the money was received, the victim would receive a check with the winnings. After a visit to the bank, employees there notified the victim that it was a scam and that someone with a foreign accent had tried to call the bank to access the victim’s account.
The second sweepstakes scam that was reported involved a citizen notifying the Sheriff’s Office of a letter the citizen received from a company identified as Grace Kennedy Money Services that contained a check for $4,600. The check was for her to pay a processing fee to collect winnings of $500,000 for a 2nd place prize in the second category of the USA Department Stores Sweepstakes Lottery that, according to the letter, was held in June. The citizen did not deposit the check due to a feeling that it was a scam.
“The good news is neither victim in these sweepstakes scams suffered any financial loss”, according to Jimmy Watt, Public Information Officer for the Sheriff’s Office. “With that in mind and as we have done in previous scams updates, we want to pass along some information on how our citizens can avoid being a victim in a sweepstakes scams:”
- If you are asked to send money in order to claim a sweepstakes prize or someone contacts you over the phone or over the internet, saying they are from a sweepstakes company, notifying you that you have won or regarding your prize, it is a scam. By calling a number back that is tied to a scam, you could set yourself up for future scams. You can always Google a number to see if a number has been tied to a scam. Also, scammers can manipulate the phone lines through a process of Caller ID spoofing to make it appear that they may be calling from a local number or from one inside the state or from inside the country.
Always be wary of anyone who asks you to pay any fees on a prepaid card. Legitimate businesses and organizations do not require any payments using prepaid cards.
• Never provide any type of personal or financial information to anyone you do not know, such as social security numbers or account or routing numbers.
• Bear in mind that most if not all the time, you have to enter a sweepstakes in order to win one. Be wary of receiving a correspondence via the telephone, text messages, social media or e-mail notifications (for major prizes) or letters delivered by regular mail.
• It is always good practice to never wire transfer or send money based upon a single phone call. Always do a little research beforehand, even if it means hanging up with the individual who called you.
• Always remember that if money or assets are lost in any scam, including sweepstakes scams, it is almost impossible to recover those lost funds or assets.
In another reported scam, a deputy received word from a citizen who responded to an online ad about becoming a secret shopper. The citizen responded by e-mail and then received a check with instructions to deposit the check in the victim’s bank account. After depositing the check, the citizen was asked to respond by e-mail that the check had been deposited. The victim was told to deposit the money, keep a certain amount and then send the remaining balance via two money gram transactions. After the victim checked with the bank, the bank told the victim that the deposited check was fraudulent. The bank also informed the victim that the victim was responsible for a negative balance in the account.
“One of the signs that we see for many scams is an individual who receives a check and is then asked to deposit the check and then keep a certain amount and then send the remaining amount elsewhere,” says PIO Watt. “Under most circumstances, the deposited check is a fake or fraudulent check and the person who makes the deposit will be responsible to make good to the bank any fees assessed or the negative balance in that particular account. If someone asks you to do this, do not become a victim by depositing the check.”
In another scam that was reported recently, a citizen told the Sheriff’s Office that an unknown person pretended to be the victim by hacking into the victim’s phone contacts and sending messages to the victim’s contacts asking for a loan to help the victim’s sister who reportedly was in the Philippines with the disease ALS and was needing treatment at a hospital but money was needed to being treatment. The money was to be sent via Western Union or Money Gram to an address in the Philippines and that the receipt number should be texted so the money could be collected. At the time the report was taken, the victim was unsure if anyone had been scammed.
“We always recommend that individuals continue to update passwords and codes for their social media accounts and their phones on a regular basis to try to prevent hacking, including using two-factor authentication,” continues PIO Watt. “If someone sends you a request asking for money via an e-mail, social media or text, contact that person and ask if this is legitimate. Sometimes requests for money sent via Western Union or through Money Gram could be a sign of a scam, much like someone requesting payment via a prepaid card. In this case, it was asking for money to be sent out of the country and then a receipt number was asked for. If a receipt number is given, then the money could be collected with practically no chance of recovery. Scammers play on people’s emotions and in this case, someone in need of money for medical treatment will play on those emotions, especially coming from someone that the potential victims know.”
In a related scam involving the internet and/or social media, a deputy spoke with a complainant in regards to a fraud complaint on the victim’s debit card. The victim had reportedly located a vehicle for purchase on a social media’s marketplace and was contacted by someone out of state. The victim was told to go to another website and gave the person who made contact permission to gain access to the victim’s computer remotely. An attempt by the suspect to gain access to the victim’s PayPal account was unsuccessful. The victim notified his bank to make them aware of what was going on and the bank cancelled the victim’s debit card.
“Never allow any individual remote access to your computer unless it is a tech company and you initiate the contact to repair a problem with your computer. If payment must be made using a card, we recommend a credit card to be used instead of a debit card,” says PIO Watt. “Of course, making purchases of any kind in person is always a safe alternative where the exchange of money and product can take place at the same time. The parking lot at the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office is available for individuals to conduct this kind of business and we make that available to our citizens in order for them to feel safe.”
In a law enforcement related scam reported to the Sheriff’s Office, a resident stated a call was received by a spouse from a number with an area code from Canada. The resident stated that the call came from a friend who said that while driving an Uber vehicle in Miami, FL, a law enforcement officer stopped the vehicle and discovered narcotics inside. The caller then asked the residents to go and purchase $4,000.00 worth of gift card to send to Miami for bail. After hanging up the phone and redialing the number, the resident stated that someone claiming to be from a law firm answered the phone and stated they were trying to get his friend out of jail.
“The resident did not go and purchase the gift cards and is not out of money, thank goodness,” continues PIO Watt. “This is very similar to the kind of scams we see that normally involve grandparents and grandchildren. One of the sure signs of a scam is someone requesting payment via a prepaid card. As we have stated on numerous occasions, legitimate businesses and organizations will not ask for payment to be made using prepaid cards.”
The Sheriff’s Office was also notified by a citizen of a phone call that was received in which the caller stated that they were from the Internal Revenue Service. The caller told the citizen that the IRS had a warrant for the citizen. The citizen realized that it was a scam and hung up the phone. No money was lost due to this scam.
“Even though we do not see the frequency of scam calls involving the Internal Revenue Service like we used to, we occasionally see them pop up,” says PIO Watt. “As we have stated before, if someone calls you and states they are from the IRS and that you owe back taxes or they have a warrant, hang up the phone and contact the Internal Revenue Service immediately at 1-800-829-1040 and made an inquiry regarding your tax status. The general practice from the IRS is to contact you by mail if you owe back taxes and not to contact anyone by phone. If you feel you are the victim of an IRS scam, you can go online to the website for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/ and file a complaint online.”
In one final note, Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw was notified recently that someone had been attempting to solicit donations on behalf of the South Carolina Sheriffs Association via telephone.
“The Sheriffs Association does not solicit donations over the telephone but only through a direct mail campaign,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “In the past, we have issued releases when the Sheriffs Association has sought donations and we will continue to do so. If someone calls you claiming to be from the Sheriffs Association and seeks a donation, hang up the phone and do not provide any money and/or personal or financial information.”