October 27, 2005

Financial, Phone Scams Being Reported Locally

It used to be lightning rods, driveway repairs or other manual labor tactics, which were the favorite ploys used by scam artists to bilk unsuspecting victims out of their money.

In today’s world of technology, thieves have turned to computers, banking and personal information as the new tools of their trade.

“When times get a little tough, like the current economic climate, we see more and more of these types of situations,” said David Trueblood, president of Community Bank of Memphis.

One of these situations local banks have seen more of recently is the “Nigerian oil scam” or related frauds that attempt to lure the victim into helping someone in need.

According to the Missouri Independent Bankers Association, perpetrators of this type of scam send the prospective victim a letter or an e-mail from someone claiming to be a Nigerian official, businessman or surviving spouse of a former government official.

The bait for the trap is thousands or even millions of dollars that this Nigerian is offering to transfer into the victim’s bank account, because said funds cannot be accessed by the Nigerian. The scam artist asks for the recipient’s aid in transferring the money out of the volatile African nation and generally offers a large chunk of the money for the assistance.

When a prospective victim responds, they generally will receive forged documents and other official looking correspondence that tend to validate the proposed transaction.

Ultimately all the good samaritan receives is a bogus check or two in exchange for his or her personal bank information and sometimes even financial contributions sent to “aid the release of the Nigerians money.”

So the thief gains access to the victim’s bank account in addition to any money mailed or transferred to the “Nigerian.”

“Just remember, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is,” warns the MIBA. “Before finding yourself victim of a scam, ask yourself two questions – why would a stranger want to give you money? And why would you want to give a stranger your personal financial information?”

Another scam that local banks have witnessed involves online auctions. The seller receives an apparent cashier’s check for more than the agreed purchase price. The victim mails the sold item and then deposits the check, at the same time sending a refund of the cost overage to the thief. It turns out the original cashier’s check is a fake, and the victim is not only out the item sold, but the refunded money.

Banks are not the only local entities witnessing scam attempts. Ray Ford, general manager for Northeast Missouri Rural Telephone Company recently reported a customer’s complaint regarding scam phone calls.

Ford indicated the incident occurred in Queen City but noted it was likely going unreported in other exchanges. The phone company stated the reported incident likely was related to a scam first uncovered in 2004 that likely was resurfacing.

In July 2004, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon warned Missourians to beware of a new telemarketing scam designed to steal a person’s financial information. Several consumers from around the state have contacted his office about calls telling them they have received or are eligible to receive a government grant. The caller asks consumers to give their bank account information to secure the grant.

Consumers who have reported this scam to the Attorney General say the telemarketers have used several business names, including Free U.S. Government Grants, Federal Government Grant Information Center, New Federal Government Grant Information, or another similar name. The telemarketer tells consumers the business is located in Florida.

Consumers who receive suspicious calls are asked to call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222 or to fill out a complaint form.

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