Scammers see opportunities in COVID era

Woman lost $1,200 to scammers who promised a federal grant. Others have reported having their information used to file a false unemployment claim.

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November 3, 2020 - 9:56 AM

An Iola woman who lost $1,200 to scammers wants others to learn from her mistake and protect themselves from fraud. 

It’s a timely message, as other local residents have reported being the victim of various scams including unemployment fraud. Scammers, in particular, seem to be taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis, as scams will promise federal grant money or file fraudulent unemployment claims. 

Scams and fraud reports tend to go in cycles, Iola Police Chief Jared Warner said. It appears scammers will target an area, as the police department will field similar calls in a short period of time before scammers move on. 

THE VICTIM of the scam, who asked not to be identified, said she was convinced the scam was real. So convinced, in fact, that she talked her skeptical husband into sending money to the scammers.

They contacted her through Facebook Messenger, having apparently hacked an account belonging to her friend. The “friend” said she was referring her to a federal grant program.

The victim then contacted the number for the grant, and someone who represented himself as a federal agent said she was eligible for the grant but would need to pay taxes first. He asked to be paid $1,200 in gift cards, which Warner and the victim both said should have been a red flag.

“I should have known right then and there that something wasn’t right,” the victim said. “But I sent them $1,200. Then he said he needed $5,000. After that I said no, I wasn’t sending any more money and I wanted my money back, but he said no.”

The victim then contacted her credit card company, because she used it to pay for the gift cards. By then, the transaction had been processed and the gift cards had been spent at department stores. She could not recoup her loss.

The victim had to cancel her credit cards and worked with her bank to change other financial information. She also reported the incident to the Iola Police Department. 

“I’m not a dumb person. They were really convincing,” the victim said about the scammers.

Recovering from the situation has been difficult, she said. She said she was embarrassed to have fallen for a scam. 

“Now I’m leery of everybody.”

IF YOU are suspicious of an offer or activity, call the police for guidance, Warner said. 

Do not give out personal information, especially financial information. Especially, do not send money in the form of a gift card to someone you do not know personally.

“Reputable companies are not going to ask for your personal information,” Warner said “A lot of scammers will try to put fear into you, that you have to take care of this right away. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, let me look into it and get back to you.’”

Then, call police and ask for advice. That happens all the time, Warner said, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed.

At times, residents will bring a check into the police department for verification. Often, a scammer will send someone a check with instructions to cash it, send all part of it to the scammer and keep the rest.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to convince them it’s a scam,” he said.

UNEMPLOYMENT fraud has increased during the pandemic. 

It’s a problem that has plagued all states. The Kansas Department of Labor reported it has stopped more than 100,000 fraudulent unemployment claims.

Under the scam, someone uses a victim’s personal information to file for unemployment benefits.

Often, victims realize their personal information has been compromised only when they receive a letter in the mail about an unemployment claim they never filed, or their employer has been contacted to verify employment. 

If you suspect you may have been targeted, go to dol.ks.gov/fraud to file a report. 

This site eliminates the need for individual law enforcement agencies to make reports. The website will generate a police report number for the victim and provide tips for the victim to use to help mitigate the damage from the theft. KDOL agents will then handle any required investigative follow-up and prevent the fraudulent claims from being paid. 

PROTECT yourself from scams by checking with reputable sources.

Fraud and romance scams aimed at older adults resulted in losses of more than $184 million in 2018, acceding to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

In addition to calling the police to verify if something is a scam, you can consult various websites for advice.

— The Federal Communications Commission, fcc.gov/general/frauds-scams-and-alerts-guides , offers a list of common scams.

— The Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov offers information and opportunities to report fraud and identify theft.

— Visit stopelderfraud.ovc.ojp.gov or call the hotline at 833–FRAUD–11 (833–372–8311) between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

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