BY BILL WOLCOTT
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Fraud and scams can originate anywhere and find anyone, even the police chief.
Con men no longer concentrate on the silver hair set with personal schemes. They strike targets from long distance. Their reach knows no boundaries.
Sometimes there is a personal touch, with a phone call or an email. Many times it seems totally random. The victim never has contact with the crook, but just a notices a glitch on a credit card or bank statement.
Police Chief Larry Eggert once got billed for two $500 cell phones he never bought. The scam started with a phone call asking about a change in his personal identification number (PIN). Then he got the bill for $1,000 for phones he never ordered. Someone in New York City got the phones.
Eggert pressed the issue and learned, “They knew address where they shipped the phones to, but the card company didn’t take the trouble. It turned off the phones, took the $1,000 loss and went on with business.”
Det. Lt. Rick Podgers recalled a victim who got curious 1-cent bills from Hong Kong tacked on to her account. That was a test before a big hit of $1,000.
”If it happens, the bank gives it back,” Podgers said. “That’s why credit card rates are so high.”
Recently, there has been a spike in local police reports and the victims come in all ages.
”Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening,” Eggert said. “Crime used to be local, then it became regional, now it’s global.”
The crooks come from all over. The Lockport police blotter shows local residents are not only victimized in the state: New York City, White Plains, Little Neck and Brooklyn; but from Colorado, Delaware, Texas, Maryland and even Flourtown, Pa. Add Canadian cities Montreal and Mississauga.
”It’s a lot bigger than Lockport. It’s all across the country. People’s credit cards are stolen and used,” Eggert said. “It’s a diverse group. They tended to target the older people, but some how they’re getting people’s ID information and creating false IDs.”
There are a wide variety of scams. With new technology, criminals are finding ingenious ways to get to know you and your numbers.
• Pay a waiter with a credit card and the waiter, while running your card to pay the bill, may have his own personal scanner to get all your information. That information is valuable.
• There’s a device that can scan your card while it’s in your wallet, in your pocket, according to Eggert.
• Go to the ATM for a withdrawal, but beware of an extra topping that appears to be part of machine. A scanner may have been placed on the ATM to read your pin numbers. That’s popular in Toronto.
• Some information may be garnered from receipts tossed in garbage cans placed near the ATM.
• Scammers may use your information to order on line and have the items shipped to a vacant apartment. The crooks pick up the package at the door.
“People are not helpless if you prepare for it,” Eggert said. “If you’re careful, you have a good chance of not being bitten. As soon as you let your guard down than you can become a victim very quickly.”
Check your statements. If there’s a suspicious $5 charge, it may be a test to see if it works. The next one might be $500.
If you get a call congratulating you because you’ve won a cruise, be careful. The caller may just want your social security number and the date of birth.
”If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Eggert repeated. “If you’ve won the sweepstakes in Nigeria, they don’t have a sweepstakes in Nigeria. If somebody left you $10,000 in his will, that’s probably not a real will. If somebody’s going to send you $1 million, but you’ve got to send a check, it’s a fraud.”
Finding and prosecuting the scam artists is difficult.
Pursuing a case in Colorado is cost prohibitive.
”For us to go to Nigeria, or the Ukraine or anywhere else, it’s physically impossible,” Eggert said.
Eggert and Podgers don’t sign the back of their credit cards. The cops want the clerk to check identification.