What you can do to prevent being taken

Swindlers prying money from unsuspecting folks is nothing new. Think traveling snake-oil salesmen peddling cure-all tonics.

But people still get fleeced, and according to an expanding list of scams detailed on the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department’s website, new scams or new twists to old scams snag innocent people more often than you might think.

The range of fraud is extensive, and the crimes are under-reported, often because people feel embarrassed to come forward after realizing they’ve been duped, according to antifraud authorities.

A sampling of local scams include supposed contractors knocking on doors offering to pave driveways and parking lots with their “surplus” asphalt at a fraction of the cost. There’s the one about your bank calling to get your personal information and bank account numbers. Or being called by someone from a private number claiming to be a sheriff or an attorney demanding payment for a crime of check fraud, otherwise they will be arrested.

Why do scams persist? Because they work, said Amy Nofziger, director of the AARP’s Elderwatch and a partner with Colorado’s Office of the Attorney General on fraud prevention.

“It’s the same old same old,” she said. “I should be working myself out of a job, but I’ve been here 10 years.”

Scamming techniques have become more sophisticated over the years and are constantly transforming, often mirroring national trends and toying with people’s heartstrings or concerns. For example, a recent scam plays on the nation’s high unemployment rate, offering a job if folks send in their personal information, including Social Security numbers. Soon, Nofziger expects, Medicare enrollment scams will surface as the annual enrollment period for seniors is upon us.

“Research shows the scammers use a lot of the same marketing techniques that are legitimate,” she said. “You have to look at it and ask, ‘Does it make sense to you?’ “

Tips for not getting taken:

Never give out personal information over the phone or via email, unless you initiated contact with the company or your bank. Your bank should know your account number, and many banks say they will never call you and ask for such information.

Avoid the “grandparent” scam in which people telephone elderly people pretending to be their grandsons and granddaughters in trouble in a foreign country and in need of cash fast. Hang up and call grandchildren or their parents to determine whether they are in trouble.

Buying something from Craigslist or from an individual online? Make plans to meet the seller at their bank to complete the deal. Accepting or paying with cash is best. Before accepting a cashier check or money order for goods, call the bank with a check’s account number to ensure funds are available.

Buying products or services should never include wiring money to a seller via Western Union, MoneyGram or any form of money order. Craigslist offers this and other advice on its website in an attempt to reduce fraud. Additionally, anyone considering purchasing a vehicle from a seller online can obtain the VIN number and call it in to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department or Colorado State Patrol to determine whether the vehicle is stolen.

Don’t give money to people selling goods or taking donations door-to-door. The practice can become a safety issue for residents. If you have trouble saying no, tell the person requesting that you determine your giving plans at the beginning of the year. If the person has information, accept it and consider and research the organization before making a charitable donation.

Got an email congratulating you on lottery winnings from a country you’ve never visited? Thinking of buying an item offered at a ridiculously low asking price? Are you tempted by an investment opportunity promising huge payouts or an offer to borrow money without so much as a required credit check? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Also, email communication this is littered with poor grammar, has an introduction of special circumstances or drums up emotional circumstances, should be your first clue that something is fishy.

Information from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and AARP Elderwatch


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