Locals should learn to spot scammers
Your phone rings and you get the good news: You have won Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes! It is good news ... if it's true.
Or, the mail is delivered and you get the bad news: You are wanted by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)! It is bad news ... if it's true.
Unfortunately, local law enforcement agencies are receiving complaints of scams locally that target residents 50 years old and older by mail, Internet and phone.
"One of these scams is a letter from the FBI telling the person they need to pay a $400 or $500 fine to keep the FBI from coming and arresting them," said Police Chief Steve Cropper. "Then, they get a follow-up phone call after the letter comes."
Cropper warns recipients of these calls and letters, "The FBI is not going to send you a letter saying 'pay a fine, or we are going to arrest you.' If the FBI has a warrant for you, they are going to come knock on your door."
Webster Parish Chief Deputy Bobby Igo, Jr., agrees.
"Sometimes, a message will pop up on your (computer) screen on the Internet, supposedly from the FBI," Igo said. "The message will say, 'we've been watching you for a while and you've been involved in sex trafficking' ... or that type stuff. The FBI doesn't work that way. In fact, no agency works that way."
The sweepstakes scam is possibly the most popular scam crime.
"Some are getting a call saying they've won a sweepstakes or Powerball or Publisher's Clearing House," Cropper said. "Sometimes they just say 'you've won a million or two million dollars.'"
The scam artists then tell the "winner" to go to their local bank, withdraw $400 or $500 as a processing fee, put the funds on a money card and give the "caller" the card number.
"They claim they will deliver the winnings by UPS (United Parcel Service) or by an armed security company," Cropper said.
"It's an overseas scam," he continued. "We have gotten some phone numbers and tracked them. They show they are coming out of Florida or Las Vegas, but it's a hub out of Kingston, Jamaica, and there's not much we can do about it locally."
Igo said it doesn't matter if you believe your money is going to an address in the United States.
"With Western Union – or any of those places you send money through – you are given a routing number," Igo said. "Anyone who has that routing number can call Western Union and have the money rerouted to an overseas address. Then, all of a sudden, it's gone. And there probably never was a U.S. address."
Yet another scam deals with hauling animals – such as cattle – by truck.
"They are sending people these letters that say 'we will pay you so much to haul these animals to a feed lot' or maybe an auction barn," Igo said. "They want you to send them some money and they will supposedly get your insurance for you, so you can haul these animals."
Igo ascribes to the "preventive medicine" theory and recommends staying away from "too good to be true" projects in the first place.
"If it's not a local business, don't do business with them in the first place," he said. "You know home-town folks. I'm not saying don't go to Shreveport or Bossier or something, but if you don't know that person and can't talk to them face-to-face, if you can't look that person in the eye – stay away from the situation completely. If you go outside the city, parish or state, our ability to get your money back is limited."
Knowing who first contacted whom is key to spotting a scam.
"If you get a letter or a call where they want you to send them money first, it's a scam," Igo said. "If you're not looking for something, and you haven't contacted them in reference to something like a trip, or hauling cattle, or anything – but they've contacted you, a red flag should go up right there."
Cropper encourages scam victims – or anyone approached by possible scammers – to jot down the phone number of the person calling and ask for the caller's name.
"You're probably going to get a bogus name," he said. "But ask anyway, and ask what exactly they are calling about."
To report these calls and letters, Cropper said to call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357.