No one ever wants to receive a phone call from a loved one in trouble, but authorities are asking the public to be wary and remember that those callers may not be who they say they are.
One Ocean View man received a call from a man who claimed to be his grandson.
“‘I’m in trouble. I’ve never bothered you for anything,’” the man recalled the caller saying. “The voice sounded somewhat familiar.”
The caller said he had been in an auto accident and needed financial help. The Ocean View man eventually determined the man was not his grandson and did not lose any money to the scammer. But such calls have become commonplace.
“This is one that’s been going on for quite some time,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “It’s a financial scam. We get reports of this in our community off and on. It seems like there has been an uptick recently with some of these scams.
“Before you do anything, before you send money, if anybody is in trouble — if you’re a resident of Ocean View, I would encourage you to stop by or call the Ocean View Police Department and let us look into it.
“We can usually make a determination pretty quick whether it’s a stranger or a family member in need. A lot of times, they’ll say they’re on vacation in Mexico and got jammed up and need money for bail. There was one that came in that involved somebody from out-of-state that had gotten arrested for drunk driving, and they needed $2,000 for bail.”
McLaughlin said a red flag to the public should be any request to send money by Western Union.
“We had one woman who was victimized — they called her and said, ‘Send it Western Union.’ She said, ‘I don’t know where I can do that.’ They said at the Food Lion two miles from her house, and, unfortunately, she did.”
Another common phone scam is one in which a “representative” from the Internal Revenue Service calls, allegedly regarding monies owed.
“The IRS wouldn’t do that with a phone call.”
Other common scams including calls claiming that the person’s computer has gotten infected by a virus and that the caller represents the manufacturer and will help clear up the problem for a fee — sometimes requested to be paid via iTunes gift cards or other unrecoverable payment method.
McLaughlin said that, although authorities cannot always do something about the scammers, because many are calling from overseas, he encourages anyone who believes they may have been scammed to contact the police.
“Oftentimes, people are too embarrassed to call the police. It’s still important to call us and let us know this activity is going on.”
McLaughlin said there are a lot of websites that track phone scams that consumers can utilize as well. A call from an unfamiliar number can be searched online to see if other people have reported the number as being used in a scam. People can also screen their calls by not answering calls from unfamiliar numbers and allow legitimate callers to leave a voicemail message that can then be verified before returning a call.
He added that, if someone receives any phone call asking for money, they should take a moment before acting.
“I would just encourage anybody — if somebody calls you and asks for any money, don’t send them any money until you can verify,” he said. “Take a minute, pause, calm yourself down, and tell them you have to consult with another family member first. Then hang up, and you can check into it.
“If it does turn out that it is an emergency, you can still respond to it appropriately. If not, you can pat yourself on the back for not falling victim to the scam. For the residents of Ocean View, they’re welcome to come to the police department for help from us in determining if it is an emergency or a scam. Please, don’t send anybody any money, especially Western Union, until you’ve verified that there is a real emergency.”
Those who wish to be added to the Do Not Call list that prohibits legitimate marketers from calling them should visit https://www.donotcall.gov. For more information on phone scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0076-phone-scams#Signs.