Madison County Sheriff’s Office Public Relations Officer Isaac Payne reported several cases of attempted fraud last week.
No money exchanged hands, but victims, at one point, considered purchasing gift cards to pay suspects insisting the victims owed money.
“It’s pretty typical fraud scam, that’s done by phone or email. They ask for payment. A gift card is never a good idea. A gift card is a big red flag — that’s a scam,” he said.
Police find it very difficult to trace where money from a gift card goes, Payne said.
“(Criminals) really like the gift cards because they’re not traceable. Credit cards are very traceable. If it’s a gift card, the money’s gone,” he said.
Most scams involve paying a fee or taxes for a contest won or scholarship received. It may also involve someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration. In such cases, the caller claims that the victim owes money, and, if they don’t pay up, police will immediately arrest them. Neither the IRS nor the Social Security Administration or law enforcement ever calls someone concerning any kind of a payment, Payne said.
Payne said that the phone number might appear to be a local one.
“They make it sound very scary. They want that panic reaction. It seems very credible, but, in fact, it’s not,” he said.
Payne noted that scammers often target what he calls the “vulnerable population.”
“Typically, it’s the elderly who aren’t as familiar with websites and things like that,” he said. “They’ll get them to do exchanges online. They’ll also target college-age (young adults). They are prime targets because they’re not as familiar with the financial world. It’s their first time out on their own. It’s a knee jerk reaction. They’ll think ‘I owe them money.’”
Most of the con artists live outside the United States, Payne said.
“The originators are usually not from around here, and that makes it’s hard to prosecute from a law enforcement perspective,” he said.
Even Payne has received fake phone calls from someone claiming to be a police officer, and telling Payne there’s a warrant out for his arrest.
“If I had a warrant, someone here would have told me. I told them ‘Let me walk down the hall and ask. They say I don’t have one,’ and they hung up on me,” he said.
Payne urged residents to be wary of any calls from anyone claiming to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, law enforcement or someone claiming the victim has won a prize.
“The best thing for everyone in the community is to be wary,” Payne said.