Friday, March 31, 2006
Scams: the villain with 1000 faces is in Carlisle
You may not be interested in buying the Brooklyn Bridge, but there are an array of other options available in the mail, over the phone and through e-mail. These are the deals that seem too good to be true and prove to be just that. However, caution, prudence and just plain old-fashioned common sense can thwart fraud.
The old-fashioned scam is alive and well and, as many residents can attest, living in Carlisle. It has been joined in the last decade by an equally dishonest, invisible and potentially devastating electronic cousin, cybercrime. Cybercrime attacks through your e-mail and credit cards, silently using electronic systems to steal identity and drain assets. Unlike the old-fashioned scam, its victims are usually unaware that anything is happening until the damage has been done, and the identity has been stolen or credit used and abused.
Inspector Scott Barnes, who is the Carlisle police officer responsible for handling cases of cybercrime, says both the kinds of cybercrime and the amount of it are increasing. Police Chief John Sullivan says he is requesting $10,000 in his new budget for Northeastern Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) officer training in cybercrime detection. The Carlisle police department started systematically tracking cybercrime in 2001; prior to that it was usually recorded as suspicious activity. It is varied and evolves with each new technology. It may, in fact, combine several technologies; one Carlisle resident had a credit card stolen from the mailbox. The person who took it used the telephone book and address to gather more information, and then, posing as a credit card company representative, called to "verify" the information. Armed with that stolen data, the thief arranged for a change of address and used the card to run up bills which were sent to the "new" address. The card owner discovered the theft only after being contacted by a credit card company about a large, unpaid bill. Increasingly, banks and credit card companies that notice atypical activity notify the actual account owner to confirm the legitimacy of a transaction.
"Have I got a deal for you"
Barnes reports three major types of scam being used in Carlisle. The first is the Nigerian or West African scam. Someone calls claiming to be a wealthy West African who wants to transfer funds to this country; he asks to transfer money to your account in exchange for some percentage or payment. All he needs is your account number, and you know the rest of that story.
Then there is the Canadian lottery scam. You are told you have won a lottery. When you pay the taxes and fees, you will receive a check for what you have won. You can guess the rest of this one, too.
Barnes mentions charity scams, many of them occurring in the post- Katrina period. The picture of a starving child and urgent plea to send money donations to wherever and, of course, that is the end of the trail.
Three times in two weeks
This writer has been contacted three times in the last two weeks: one, a spokesman for a company purporting to issue bank checks claimed 60,000 checks were misprinted and that none of the checks previously issued can be cashed. This company could rectify the situation with the number of my last check and my bank account number. When I asked for a return telephone number while I verified this information at the bank, no number was given.
The second scam was a formal looking notice, envelope within a sealed envelope, announcing a second chance to reclaim a prize I had already won. All I had to do...you know the rest.
The third scam claimed it was the second notice of an award of great wealth and the window of opportunity to claim the money was about to close. All that needed to be done was etc., etc. All this in Carlisle, in a two-week period.
What you can do
Barnes writes, "The truth is, you can't prevent identity theft from occurring, but you can . . . minimize your chance of becoming a victim." A cardinal rule is to never give out personal information, such as your social security number and bank or credit account information to anyone you do not know. Remember, banks do not have to verify this material, they already have it. If you receive a mailing asking you to join a lottery or questionable business activity, throw it away: it is never necessary to purchase anything or pay money to enter a legitimate sweepstakes. If you get a call saying you have won something and are asked for money or personal information, hang up. Never put your credit card, bank account or social security number on any sweepstakes entry form, "international lottery," fax, e-mail or letter from anyone unless you have initiated contact and/or it is a person or business you know.
Whom to contact
Barnes suggests that everyone check their credit reports once a year from all three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, 1-800-888-4213, www.transunion.com; Experian, 1-888-397-3742, www.experian.com; Equifax, 1-800-685-1111, www.equifax.com.
If you think you have been a victim of a scam or cyberfraud, notify local police, in this case, Inspector Barnes at 1-978-369-1155, or call Attorney General Tom Reilly's Consumer Complaint Hotline at 1-617-727-8400. Also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT. You should notify the three major credit reporting agencies and initiate a fraud alert on your file, valid for 90 days. That requires creditors to notify you before changing existing accounts or opening new accounts.
If you suspect a charity scam, call the Attorney General's Office and see if the charity in question is registered with the state.
Avoid charity scams
The following information is from Attorney General Tom Reilly's office, off the web site: www.ago.state.ma.us/sp.cfm?pageid-1985:
When asked to donate to charity, avoid thieves who will try to get your personal information, clean out your bank account and ruin your credit.
• Never give out personal information, such as your Social Security number and bank or credit account information to anyone you do not know.
• Ask questions and find out where your donation will be going.
• Find out what percentage of your donation the charity will spend on actual programs or services.
•Ask for and review the written materials from the charity, or check its website to see if it is doing what you would expect.
• Call the Public Charities Division at the Attorney General's Office 1-617-727-2200 to see if the charity you plan to support is registered with the state.
© 2006 The