Police: Cut the cord on telephone scam artists

DOVER — When in doubt, hang up immediately.

That’s the best tactic against a suspected phone scammer.

“The best advice we can give is to not engage with the caller at all and hang up,” Dover Police spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said last week.

“If the caller is pretending to be a utility company, the IRS, the courts, or other entity and you are unsure, hang up and call the official service yourself to ensure they were not trying to reach you.”

Most honest folks understand that and avoid the agony of getting fleeced, according to authorities.

“While we have had some victims come forward, I believe that the overwhelming majority of the public are familiar with these attempts and simply hang up the phone,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

The odds of catching often faraway, anonymous ripoff artists aren’t good.

“These cases rarely, if at all, lead to an arrest as the majority of the calls are being made from an overseas location and simply cannot be traced to any one person, organization or location,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Recently, Dover residents did the right thing when receiving calls from a fraudster pretending to be a city electric department employee collecting unpaid bills.

“We did not have any victims lose any money to the attempt, but we were made aware of the scam attempts,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Police receive scam reports “fairly often” and “it seems to come and go in waves,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Dover Police devote part of their website to reviewing scam avoidance and tips — doverpolice.org/phone-scam-information — and post occasional social media reminders as well. When law enforcement seems to be receiving more reports than usual, the public warnings increase.

Several other scams have been reported to the Dover PD in the last several months:

Jury duty/warrant

One of the recent scams involves phone calls from persons falsely identifying themselves as members of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office and/or Delaware Courts. The callers have been telling recipients that they missed jury duty and must pay a fine over the phone/wire transfer immediately to avoid or cancel a warrant for their arrest.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office has reported at least half a dozen such calls that they are aware of. No court representative will phone your home asking for money. If you are called, do not give out any personal or financial information. Be on alert and report calls.

If you are unsure of a call/letter from the Delaware Court system or Kent County Sheriff’s Office, you should contact the appropriate courthouse online at courts.delaware.gov,

Puppies

Dover Police have heard of two variations of this type of scam. The first is an online ad, especially on Craigslist, that claims an owner of several

AVOIDING SCAMS
The Delaware State Police offer the following tips and recommendations to avoid becoming a victim of a phone scam:
• Do not wire money.
• Do not provide the caller with any information.
• Attempt to get the caller’s phone number and address.
• Check all the facts. If you get a call and are concerned that it may be a scammer, ask the caller where they are calling from and call the agency.
• Google or internet search the company and check for a valid website.
• If you believe it is a scam, do not cooperate with the caller. The best thing to do is to hang up the phone.
• If something seems suspicious, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1.

puppies is on a church mission to another country and simply cannot take care of the dogs any longer. They claim the puppies are free, but ask to split the shipping costs with the victim.

The person will even send a fraudulent shipping label to make it appear legitimate, and request a wire transfer of funds for shipping.

The second variation of this scam is a person(s) claiming to have puppies for sale locally. Many times, the person will even establish a website displaying pictures of the “dogs for sale” along with a local address and phone number.

Once the victim shows interest in the dogs for sale, the person will request a wire transfer deposit to hold the dog until it is ready to be picked up or payment for shipping the animal. The buyer never receives the animal or their money back.

IRS

The IRS scam has seemed to pick up in popularity recently. This scam occurs when a person calls the victim, often from a Washington D.C. phone number, and claims that the victim or a loved one has a warrant for their arrest for unpaid taxes/tax fraud.

The caller usually states that by paying a sum of money, they can dismiss the warrant and the charges against the person. Often, in a panic, the victim will provide payment information or wire money to avoid arrest.

No IRS representative will phone your home asking for money. If you are called, do not give out any personal or financial information. If you are concerned, you can hang up and call your local IRS office to verify your status.

Never send money by phone or wire transfer when contacted.

Craigslist/Backpage

While second-hand sale pages such as Craigslist and Backpage can be useful, users should use extra caution when making purchases from these sites. Similar to the puppy scam, there are several false ads uploaded to these sites every day. When a victim shows interest in an item, the seller will ask for a money transfer to ship the item, often claiming to be out of state or overseas. The victim will send the payment for an item that never arrives, and more than likely never existed in the first place.

There have been several recent cases where online sales have led to dangerous and sometimes deadly encounters with persons they meet for a sale. Dover Police encourage sellers and buyers to avoid meeting at a person’s home to make a transaction. Instead, meet the seller or buyer in a well-lit and heavily populated area, such as a rest area, gas station or shopping center.

House for rent

The rental home scam has cost several people in and around Dover thousands of dollars. The scam is often the result of a false ad placed on Craigslist or real estate websites.

The person placing the ad will use actual addresses and photos of a home they obtain from sources such as Google Maps and legitimate real estate sites. The person usually claims to be out of state or overseas for work or other purposes and uses this reason as the excuse not to meet the interested party. The person will request a security deposit and rent in exchange for keys to the property that was never theirs to begin with.

The victim, often in a hurry to find a place to live, will wire the money and potentially lose thousands of dollars on a home they will never reside in.

Utility

The utility scam has also become popular as callers pose as members of the electric/water/gas department, or other utility. The caller may tell you that your utilities services will be cut off without quick payment. Oftens, these callers will have the victim purchase a “green dot” or pre-paid credit/debit card to pay over the phone.

If you are unsure of the validity of the call, hang up and dial your utility company yourself and request the status of your account. These callers may also suggest they are trying to save you money on your services and ask questions about how you pay your bill, the card you use and other personal information. Do not provide them with this information.

Arrested on vacation

The vacation arrest scam often targets senior citizens and their love for their grandchildren. The person behind the scam will call the victim and pretend to be an authority from another country (usually Mexico) and will claim that the victim’s grandson or granddaughter or other loved one was arrested for a crime while on vacation.

The person will request that the victim pay/wire a sum of money as bail to allow their loved one to return to the United States. Often, the victim who is typically an elderly person, will wire the money believing they are helping their family.

There are several other similar phone/email scams that have been reported to Dover Police as well. Many of these calls are from overseas and once money is sent, there is little that can be done for the victims.

More information about telephone and email scams from the Federal Trade Commission is available online at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

A personal experience

Dover Police retiree and former Capital School District teacher Robert Neylan shared his experience to illustrate the lengths a scammer will reach for a victim, and warn the public that a smooth operator can make the unlikely sound real.

Shortly after reporting to work one weekday morning, Mr. Neylan received a cell phone call with seemingly great news — he had won a tax-free $150,000 check along with a Mercedes Benz in a contest.

“It was a recorded message and it sounded like he was actually talking to me,” the intended victim remembered.

First of all, Mr. Neylan knew he hadn’t entered any contest and realized a fraud was in progress. Playing along with the con game, he wrote down a number to call to arrange prize pickup, along with a 10-digit number to identify himself. He was instructed to ask for “Albert Lopez.”

Mr. Neylan called the number provided, identified himself as “Francis Bernardo” and heard a “heavily accented” person’s voice claiming to be a UPS employee confirming that he had allegedly won the prizes.

“He asked me if I believed in God and kept asking if I was excited,” Mr. Neylan said.

The only thing left to do, according to the fake UPS employee, was for Mr. Neylan to pay a $375 shipping charge for the Mercedes Benz. The man said payment could be made by meeting him at a Wal-Mart or Walgreens store, and he happened to be driving in Delaware and could pick the money up himself.

At some point, based on caller ID, Mr. Neylan learned the call source originated from Kingston, Jamaica.

“This guy was clearly an impostor,” Mr. Neylan said. “He wasn’t in a car, and you could hear an obvious echo coming from wherever the call was being made.”

Ready to put in an honest day’s work and growing somewhat irritated with the attempted fraud, Mr. Neylan ended the call with “Listen, you have a nice day,” and hung up.

On Wednesday, Mr. Neylan said he received a phone call seeking donations to the purported National Patrol Officers Association.

“I asked who gets the money, and of course (it was to) families of fallen officers,” Mr. Neylan said.

“The call went on and I led the caller to a point where he finally hung up after I informed him I am a recent retiree of law enforcement.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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