You’ve just been informed you’ve won a million dollars! Yet, you realize it’s a scam and no money is going to be sent your way no matter how many lotteries claim you’re on Easy Street.
That one’s easy to spot, but what about other scams? There was the Orangeburg woman who was approached by a friend a month ago who wanted her to deposit two checks into her account.
Out of the $1,000 face value of the checks the 18-year-old woman deposited, she then withdrew $300 to give back to the friend. Like many other cases, the problem was the checks.
Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Investigator Jennifer Haig handles these types of crimes. On her desk are incident reports like this woman’s and many others from those who fell victim to this scam targeting young adults.
“They’re basically renting their ATM card and PIN number, and depositing bad checks,” Haig said.
The problem with the checks the woman put in her bank is they were fake.
“Then you as the card holder are left holding the bag,” she said.
A month earlier, a 23-year-old Orangeburg woman called police after her bank account was frozen due to what she was told was fraudulent activity.
She told police she had been contacted on the social media site Instagram about financial aid. The contact said she would need mobile banking. After she set it up, her balance went up by nearly $5,000.
Then she was asked to send $3,000 of the money back to a Riverdale, Illinois, address, according to a police report.
Haig said it’s difficult to gauge the financial impact scams have on any given community. For the victims, the impact can be devastating when the bank says it wants its $3,000 back.
Police aren’t certain how many people come into contact with scammers since many are reluctant to report they were duped.
Other people recognized a scam immediately but decided to play with fire, knowing the fake checks were illegal, Haig said. They then called police claiming to be a victim.
“If you file a report and say your card was stolen, you’re going to jail,” she said. “We’re not oblivious.”
But there’s still the genuine innocent victim who gets approached by thieves using what Haig says are old schemes freshened up with new twists.
One of those newer versions of an early scam is the simple computer virus. The old version crashed your computer hard drive. This one crashes your cell phone.
An Orangeburg man told police in December he was downloading an item on his cell phone when it locked up. He then got a white screen with the message stating the FBI had frozen the phone due to it being used in a crime. The catch — buy a reloadable money card, send $500 to the police and the criminal charges will go away.
According to Fraud.org, the phantom debt scam the Orangeburg man experienced last month was the fastest growing scam in both 2013 and 2014, rising to the fourth-most reported out of the Top 10 kept by the National Consumers League.
According to the NCL, fake check scams like the two Orangeburg women reported were at the top of the Top Ten Scams list in 2013, but slid to the number three spot in 2014.
“Fraud remains one of the most pernicious threats facing consumers today,” NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg said. “We are particularly concerned about scammers increasingly relying on the ‘old-fashioned’ telephone as a way to reach millions of potentially vulnerable consumers.”
Topping the list in 2014 were two of the most commonly seen scams — Internet merchandise scams and lottery and sweepstakes scams.
The Internet merchandise scam is simply buying an item online and the item is not how it was described.
Lottery scams are the promise you’ve hit the jackpot, although you never even entered. For a fee, you can collect your winnings — which never come.
About 43 percent of victims are initially contacted with the telephone, with Internet contact at 31 percent and email being nearly 16 percent.
Investigators say one good sign is consumers are now using credit cards when dealing unknowingly with scammers. That trend leaves some consumers with a way to recoup some of their money.
“Don’t let the desire for cash override common sense,” she said. “The only thing worse than being out of the money is being out of the money and going to jail.”
Contact the writer: 803-533-5516 and rwalker@timesanddemocrat. Follow Walker on Twitter at @RWalkerTandd for insight on the cops beat.