Editorial: CPD alert shows need to hang up on scammers

We hear or read about someone becoming the victim of a scam nearly every day.

Fraudsters are rampant these days, and they frequently prey on elderly and vulnerable populations. But the fact is, they aren’t picky. They’ll fleece anyone they can, or at least try, and their cons are always changing.

Take a few simple precautions, though, and you’re almost certain to protect yourself from someone trying to separate you from your money.

The first rule, which would freeze nearly every fraud attempt in its tracks, is very succinctly summed up by Columbus Police public relations officer Lt. Matt Harris: “Please do not send currency, gift cards, checks or other valuables to unknown persons. Always verify the alleged information being presented to you.”

Harris mentioned this while warning the public this week of a rather brazen con. A scammer called a local resident and urged her to send nearly $10,000 in cash to an out-of-state address to bail her son out of jail and keep the story of his purported arrest out of the newspaper. Here, the victim was lucky — she had sent the money, but CPD was able to work with the parcel company to stop delivery of the package and return the money to the family. CPD continues to investigate that one.

Last month, Bartholomew County Recorder Tami Hines joined the Better Business Bureau and the National Association of Realtors to ask the public to be leery about a company that calls itself “Local Records Office.” This rip-off contacts new homebuyers and asks them to send a check for $89 as a service fee for providing the new deed.

It’s baloney. Hines explained, “you can come to (the Bartholomew County recorder’s) office and get the same thing for only $1 per page.”

As a rule, when someone calls, mails, texts or emails you asking for money, consider it a scam unless you have initiated a transaction with that person. Hang up the phone or delete that email without giving it a second thought. A second thought can let a scammer in.

A typical ploy of today’s swindler is to present an air of authority and urgency when trying to flimflam you. That’s what nearly cost the Columbus family $10,000. “In many of the cases, the suspects are very convincing and will often use high pressure tactics to appeal to the victim’s emotions,” Harris said, noting CPD has received several similar reports of fraud.

However, no police, no jail, no government entity is going to call you on the phone demanding money. If you get a call like that, it’s a scam. Likewise, no one is going to arrest you if you don’t send money “right now”, no matter how menacing the caller sounds. And the Federal Trade Commission describes another common phone scam — a caller says you’ve won a big prize, but first, you must send money. “There is no prize,” the FTC says.

One of the more nefarious things about scams is that people who get taken are often so embarrassed that they don’t report it. And the scammers know that. Their scams bank on it.

Finally, CPD’s Harris offers this advice: “Members of the community can contact the Columbus Police Department at 812-376-2600 if they have any questions about the legitimacy of an unknown person asking for money or other valuables.”

If in doubt, make that call.