Six years have passed since I started reporting on scams and frauds to educate the citizens of La Porte County.
I am amazed at how many scams have surfaced and resurfaced over the years.
I am presenting the "Top 10 Scams of 2014" I have uncovered and reported during this time. It is amazing, looking back, how many of the scams I reported six years ago continue to plague victims today.
I receive calls all the time from all over the country of victim's experiencing the same scams. It is not unique to our area.
The rapid change in the shape and operation of the Internet, notably the huge growth of social networking, has introduced new techniques for delivering scams, and the number of victims has increased by leaps and bounds.
Not surprisingly, the scam that is the root of most scams is "phishing" – stealing personal information for identity theft. It is by far the biggest scam and remains firmly at the head of my Top 10 scams list for 2014.
10. Grandparent Scam. This one usually re-surfaces at Christmas and spring break. In these types of scams, the perpetrator calls a grandparent or other relative pretending to be a police officer or his/her grandchild/niece/nephew, etc.
The caller sounds upset and typically says there are only a few moments to talk. Callers may say they have a cold if you don't quite recognize their voice, or cue-in on feedback from the call to sound even more convincing (scam victims often report being sure they were talking to their actual relative, but it's a clever trick).
Their story generally follows a familiar line: They were traveling in another country with a friend, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they are in jail and need bail money wired to a Western Union account as soon as possible for their quick release. They ask not to call their parent(s) and it makes grandma and grandpa feel like a hero and quickly make a payment without checking it out first.
9. Wrap Your Vehicle Scams. This scam is gaining popularity again due to an enticing idea of having your car "wrapped" with either a Red Bull logo or a logo from your favorite NASCAR driver or sports team. This is done through email, Craigslist and phishing as you are offered a monthly fee to have your car wrapped and drive around as a mobile billboard.
After you agree, you are immediately overnighted a check, usually for an obscure amount like $1,432. You are to deposit this check, keep your monthly fee of usually $300 and send the remaining $1,132 to the "wrapping company" and they will come to your home and finish the process of wrapping your car.
Of course no one comes to your home and the check turns out to be a fraud. You just send $1,132 of your money to a scammer.
8. Computer Microsoft Virus Fixing Scheme. Scammers often call as a "Microsoft representative." Most people understand this term or remember it displayed on their computers.
Scammers then warn victims their computer has been infected with a virus and offer to clean it. But the scammer is really trying to gain remote access to the computer to steal credit card and personal information.
The scammer will say they need remote access to provide the supposed services, and will ask for computer passwords and related information. They also will ask for credit card information so they can bill for the supposed services.
7. Lottery Scams. Sadly, this crime targets mainly the elderly. There's apparently still no shortage of victims willing to pay up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in bogus fees to collect non-existent winnings.
Remember, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is usually not true." And you cannot win a lottery or raffle or drawing if you have never entered one.
6. IRS Scam. The latest version of the IRS scam is a threatening phone call to your home or cellphone from the IRS indicating you owe back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and that local police or federal authorities are on their way to your home or business to make an immediate arrest.
The caller claims you can stop this process by making an immediate payment to them via a Green Dot card or MoneyGram.
5. Lonely Hearts Club Scam. Through efforts on Facebook, gaming chats rooms and other dating sites, crooks are always looking to scam someone into sending gifts or financial help to alleged "friends."
Thieves also are muscling in on the bogus "girlfriend scam" or the "mail-order bride."
Victims are befriending alleged girlfriends online, and end up paying supposedly for airfares and other expenses for their new, but non-existent, sweetheart.
4. NIPSCO Scam. This scam intensifies as we experience cold weather. This scam is someone pretending to be from NIPSCO calls your home or business saying you are in arrears with your NIPSCO payment and that you will be shut off completely in the next few hours, which is done remotely from the company office.
They can even make your caller ID read, "NIPSCO." They usually call businesses that cannot afford to have their power shut off like restaurants who have refrigeration, and the bills are usually paid through the corporation so the local manager or supervisor is not sure.
Residents on the other hand "panic" because they do not want their heat turned off, especially in frigid temperatures. You begin to argue yet the only way that you can "stop this process" is to make an immediate payment of course by using MoneyGram, Green Dot Cards or Western Union. People or businesses are running to get this paid right away.
3. The Mystery Shopper and Work-From-Home Schemes. These are a get-rich-quick schemes in which a victim is lured by an offer to be employed at home, very often doing some simple task in a minimal amount of time with a large amount of income that far exceeds the market rate for this type of work.
The true purpose of such an offer is for the perpetrator to extort money from the victim, either by charging a fee to join the scheme, or requiring the victim to invest in products by cashing a bogus check.
The Mystery Shopper is an elaborate "testing" process of a local store, yet the objective is to get you to send a "sample" Western Union or MoneyGram payment to their corporate office with all of the other "shopping tasks" just a charade.
2. Green Dot Card Scams. Residents receive a phone call informing them they have "won" a prize or sweepstakes and all they have to do is buy a legitimate Green Dot Card. They usually lure you in further by asking you where you purchase your prescriptions or where you feel comfortable.
Pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS and stores such as Meijer and Walmart all carry these legitimate cards for a service fee of $4.95.
Green Dot cards are reloadable credit cards that are not tied to bank or credit union. The caller makes you feel this is safe because you are purchasing this card locally. The caller informs them "It is not a scam," and by just purchasing the cards and loading up a certain amount of money it makes you eligible to receive prizes right through the mail or have the "lottery money" sent right to your home.
To receive your prizes or money you must call back this phony company and "confirm your purchase" by just reading them the numbers off of this card to show your eligibility.
At this point the perpetrator of the scam "instantly dumps the balance of your card to their account" this now makes the victim helpless in getting any money back.
It's a money transfer that bypasses the traditional cash-wiring companies and offers a far more effective cloak of anonymity for scammers.
1. Phishing and Identify Theft. The invasion by scammers of social networking sites together with email hacking make this crime the top slot of 2014. We must be diligent to not give any information over the telephone to anyone.
Compiling this list of the Top 10 Scams is not a pleasant task, but I have found that educating the public is our No. 1 way we can fight becoming potential victims.
However, it does reinforce our determination to do everything we possibly can to reduce the impact of these despicable crimes. By highlighting the risks and publishing this top scams list, which I invite you to pass on to friends and relatives, perhaps we can do just that.
If you feel you have been scammed, or someone is attempting to cheat you, contact Sgt. Chris Yagelski at 219-873-1461, ext. 333 or email AskACop@emichigancity.com.