Columbia Police Department: Identity Theft - Columbia Police Department

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Here are some typical scams to look for:

Lottery Scams – You receive a call or letter saying you've won a prize or a lottery, but in order to receive it, you need to wire money for taxes, fees or shipping. No legitimate contest will have you wire money prior to receiving the prize. Do not send any money to any organization that promises a prize or lottery money in return. If you did not enter a lottery or drawing, then you cannot win one to begin with.

Another variation of this is, that you will be sent a cashier's check and asked to deposit it into your account. All you have to do in return is to send a small portion of the money back as a finder's fee. The check will be taken by the bank, but will take several weeks to come back as a fraudulent check. You have since sent real money to the sender and will not get that money back. In some cases you may have to repay the bank for the fraudulent check as well.

Grandchild in Jail – Someone poses as your grandchild or other relative, saying they have been arrested or in an accident. They then ask you to send money to them to get out of jail. They ask you not to call their parents because they don’t want them to know. When the money is wired, there is no way to get it back. One way to prevent being scammed is to ask the caller something only your grandchild can answer, such as their school name, first pet's name, etc.

Do not send money to anyone or anywhere without verifying your loved one is in trouble. Call your grandchild or their parents to verify they are in fact in trouble. Another way this scam works is when the criminal poses as a bank examiner or police officer saying that your bank account has fraud on it and asks for your account information. Never give out your account information in an unsolicited phone call.

Contractor Scams – The "contractor" offers special deals, free inspections or sees something wrong with your roof. If you agree to it, you are charged an outrageous price for work that probably didn't need doing, prices that increase in the middle of the job or the work never gets completed. To protect yourself, follow these simple rules:

  • Ask for references from the company or contact the Better Business Bureau.

  • Be careful about paying out money for work that is promised or for services not yet rendered.

  • Ask your neighbors or friends about companies they have used who are reliable and trustworthy.

  • Do not feel forced into hiring a “pushy” business representative to perform work.

  • If it sounds too good to be true it most likely is.

  • Do not invest money into a business scheme without first checking the legitimacy and credentials of the person or company.

  • Be careful about furnishing your credit card number by telephone or in person.

  • Report a scam to the police and inform your neighbors about any solicitor scams.


E-mail and Internet Scams –  Con artists use e-mails to trick you into giving money, bank account information, personal information or account passwords. They can make these e-mails look like legitimate bank e-mails or other corporations you belong to. By clicking on the links in the e-mails, you believe you are being taken to your bank's website or an affiliate. But in reality it is just the con artist's page that is designed only to hurt, not help you. In general, be wary of unsolicited e-mails that:

  • Promise you money, jobs or prizes

  • Ask for donations

  • Propose lucrative business deals

  • Ask you to provide sensitive personal information

  • Ask you to follow a link to a website and log on to an account


By taking the time to educate yourself about these common types of scam, and/or by sharing this information with others, you can make a valuable contribution to the war against Internet fraud.

Pigeon/Money Drop Scam – Often occurring in a parking lot, the con artist will claim they have just found a bag, briefcase or envelope and inquire about ownership. Or they will casually start talking to you, attempting to befriend you by chatting about children or grandchildren, when a third person comes by looking for the owner of a just-found bag.

When the three look inside the bag for identification they find what appears to be a large amount of cash with some indication that it comes from an illegal activity, such as gambling or drug money. A very sophisticated scheme unfolds for victims who believe that the two con artists, who work as a team, have really found a bag of money and want to share it.

Many different scenarios can be generated from this point, but the common theme is that all three will provide some kind of "good faith" money to prove they are invested in sharing the money. The two con artists will then switch the bag with newspaper or find an excuse to leave with your "good faith" money.

Remember that strangers would not likely confide in anyone else regarding found money or offer to share their good fortune with you. Be aware of anyone offering to share found property or money, and never give any money to a stranger with the promise of a larger amount of money in return.

Smishing Scams – As technology advances, so do the scam tactics and new scams, this time, targeting cell phone users. “Smishing” is a new practice where scammers contact individuals through text messages asking them to provide personal information.

Like traditional “phishing,” smishing schemers often pose as banks asking customers to contact them immediately about a pressing issue that needs to be discussed. Victims of the scam are asked to call a toll-free number and provide information, such as their debit card or account number and password, to a fake automated system.

To protect yourself, be wary of any suspicious text message or email asking for personal information. If asked for bank information, call your bank immediately rather than the number indicated in the message. Also, do not reply to the message. Scammers could be testing the number to see if it is active. Lastly, call your cell phone provider to block the number, as well as any premium text messages.

There are too many types of scams to list them all on just one page. The above listed scams are the most common scams. Remember that they all have one common theme, and that is to separate you from your hard earned money. Never give money to anyone you do not trust. Never trust an unsolicited e-mail, phone call, or personal contact from someone wanting to "help you" out. As stated in the beginning of this page, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is a scam. If you have any questions, contact Crime Prevention at (803)545-3555.

Take these additional steps to protect yourself


  • Always ask for and spend the time to check references. In all cases of fraud, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Request the physical address of any business before hiring them.

  • Drive to the address to make sure the business really exists and is not just a mail box with an address on it. Can you find the building they are representing as their office?

  • Never sign a contract the first day even under pressure from the contractor. Take the time to check out the contractor and company.

  • Be aware of the cost plus contracts. This could be an open contract to charge you far more than your budget can allow.

  • Request a contract with start and end dates, work to be performed, and final dollar amount for the project. Get all guarantees and changes in writing.

  • Never pay for the job before it is completed. Reputable businesses have credit and do not need money up front to pay for materials.

  • Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints against the company. www.bbb.org

  • Contact an A.C.E. Liasion if you have any questions or need assistance in checking into any possible scams. They can be reached at (803)545-3660. You may also call the Crime Prevention office at (803)545-3555.


 
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