Special Report: Don't be Scammed - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Don't be Scammed

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April 28, 2008

Albany --  Crooks will use any deceptive way they think of to rob you of your hard-earned money. In Albany, there was nearly a 14% increase in financial crimes last year.

Scammers and con artists often find clever ways to make you believe you're the one benefiting from a sly plan. You're then out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and there are countless schemes out there.

Money is hard to come by these days.  "It seems like it's getting worse," said Joseph Harris, Jr. "You have to spend it wisely."  

And you have to protect it.  "Everybody should be trying to work and make a living," said Harris.

But some people make a living by working to steal the money you work so hard for. Joseph Harris Jr. doesn't like the sound of that.  "I don't think highly of anyone that takes advantage of someone else," said Harris.

It happens often.  "It's not something that you want to think about or expect," Sgt. Julius Culp of the Albany Police Department.

Now with a possible recession peeking from around the corner, scammers and con artists are jumping out first.  "Pretty regularly we do see a corresponding increase in scams and fraud when there's an economic downturn," said Culp.

Sergeant Culp investigates all kinds of financial crimes. Under that umbrella are theft by deception or conversion cases.  "People are approached by strangers offering them a chance to earn some easy money," said Culp.

In January a 64-year-old Albany woman was scammed out of $2,500 in a Dollar General parking lot. The suspect promised to share some found money with her, with only one catch. She had to put up some front money.

At the end of the day, the only payout was for the suspect.  "It's on the rise," said Bill Reilly with Heritage Bank.

As a Bank Security Officer with Heritage, Reilly knows all about scams and cons. "You've heard of the Canadian Lottery," said Reilly. Lottery ploys offer big payouts with a catch.  "They'll call or they'll send you a letter or an email and they'll say that you won the Canadian Lottery and you've won so much money and they'll send you a check and they want you to cash it, and wire them so much back to pay for the taxes and the fees," said Reilly.

As a result, you've sent a scammer free money and end up owing the bank the whole amount.

Scammers also lurk where you shop or sell online, like E-Bay. Say you're selling a truck for $10,000. The person buying sends you a check for $15,000. "You'll call them up and say 'you sent me too much,' and they'll say 'oh that's okay, just cash the check and wire me back or Western Union me back the other $5,000.' Well then the check comes back bad," said Reilly.

Once again, you're out thousands of dollars.  Thieves can spy on you from far away. Even your mailbox can be a signal for crooks to come and rip you off. When you place the red flag up for the mailman, that's not who always gets your mail. "They call it 'come steal me' because they know you have a letter going out, or bill going out, which has your check in it with your routing and account number, your name, your signature," said Reilly.

All the ingredients for identity theft. Reilly says even your trash can be a treasure for thieves. They'll use garbage collectors as accomplices.  "They'll take a fifty or whatever and rip it in half and give them half the fifty and say 'you see that house, all the garbage you get, put it to the side and I'll meet you two blocks down and give you the other fifty,'" said Reilly.

That's why you should shred any important documents. And protect your information online. Millions of fraudulent emails are sent out daily by people posing as your bank asking you to verify information.  "All the banks I come in contact with, no banks will send you an email requesting personal information," said Reilly.

Never fall for the expensive tricks. The best advice coming from law enforcement is free.  "Being wary and being prudent and using your common sense," said Culp.

People like Harris say it makes sense to him. "I try to remember that the word free a lot of times will get you in trouble," said Harris. So far he's avoided the trouble.  "Thank God," said Harris.

Keeping money for himself that he's worked so many years for, and away from the crooks who want to snatch it away in a few moments. Something else to look out for-- you may search online for websites to help prevent fraud.

But authorities say even some of those anti-scam websites are fraudulent. Many crimes are reported days later or not at all because victims are simply embarrassed, police say don't be.

Instead, report them so they can gather evidence and get those crooks off the streets.

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