Police: Attempted phone scam in Saratoga not isolated event

 


They were offering Rusty Rogers, of Saratoga, his choice of prize. He could choose $25,000 cash, a new car or a kitchen renovation. All he had to do was give his name, address, age, yearly income and Social Security number to the person on the phone.

Like millions made across the nation every year, the call was a scam. Fortunately, Rogers knew better than to fall for it, and even took the effort to call the local newspaper so his neighbors could be alerted. Unfortunately, though, the scam criminals tried to pull off against Rogers is not all that uncommon. And sometimes they’re successful.

“That sounds like someone trying to get some information for ID theft,” said Robert Bifano, Chief of Police of Saratoga Police Department. “They would use that kind of information to open credit cards or other things in that person’s name.”

According to Bifano, there are several types of scams that are common, and happen on an almost daily basis. Even the seemingly small-town, bucolic safety of the Valley is no guarantee, with Bifano saying that there have been local victims of the crimes, and that many are elderly victims.


“It’s a continuous problem,” Bifano said. “It (running scams) is a full-time job for these people.”

The scams tend to take two forms, Bifano said. One variety is designed to get victims to part with money. Commonly these types of scams involve purported lottery winnings, inheritances, government grants/refunds and other potential paydays. In order to collect their windfalls, victims usually must send money to the scammers. Of course, there is no payday in the end.

The other type involves the sort of call Rogers got; an attempt to gain information to use to steal a victim’s identity and open credit in the victim’s name or use a victim’s name for nefarious purposes.

The first variety has taken a particularly sinister turn, with con artists looking at social media such as Facebook to discern who a victim’s friends or family are, then contacting that person posing as law enforcement or another official informing the victim that their friend or relative is in trouble and needs money to get out.

Another common scam is criminals posing as government agents from agencies such as the IRS then claiming a victim is about to be arrested unless they pay a fine, often by using unusual means such as money wire transfers or even gift cards from large chain retailers.

While some of the schemes may seem farcical, people do fall for them, Bifano said. According to the IRS, the IRS scam is pervasive across the nation with victims in all 50 states, according to a news release by the agency.

“Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel in the news release. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel also noted that in most instances, if there is a legitimate debt owed to the IRS, first contact from the agency is usually done by mail and not by phone.

To steer clear of scams like these, Bifano offers one piece of advice; “If it seems too good to be true, it’s too good to be true,” he said. “Criminals will use the appeal of getting something as a way to entice people (into lowering their guard).”

People should immediately be wary of anyone claiming to represent a business who needs bank account information, or Social Security numbers over the phone, Bifano said, adding that most legitimate businesses would only ask customers to verify the last four digits of a Social Security number.

Remaining vigilant is key, Bifano explained. But if someone believes he or she is the victim of one of these crimes, they should not hesitate to call or visit the local police department. In the case of a person falling victim to a scam, the police will take a report which is often the first step in protecting a person’s ID or financial accounts, Bifano said. Since the majority of these calls originate from overseas, the chances of police making an arrest or recovering any stolen money are not very good, he said. Even the federal government does not have the resources to investigate and prosecute all the cases that occur every year, he said.

That likely explains why Bifano says it is critically important for all residents to remain vigilant and protect their information from strangers, especially the elderly whom Bifano said are often the victims of these sorts of crimes.

Anyone suspecting they have been the victim of a phone or internet scam is encouraged to contact the local police department, Bifano said, adding that his department has information available to help victims protect themselves. The federal government also has resources and information available at https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds.

 

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