Grandparents face scams

FAIRMONT — The holiday season is upon us, and something about it just causes an air of generosity and good will to take hold for our fellow man. Sadly, there are those who would take advantage of that good will for their own perceived gain.

Scams are nothing new, but the criminals behind them are always innovative, modernizing old favorites and utilizing classic tropes to further their ends. Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart is offering a warning about some of the more notorious scams out there, as well as how to avoid being taken in by them.

“It’s the holiday time of giving,” he said. “It’s also tax time coming up and those two things are where this crops up a little bit. The grandparent scam is a big one.”

The grandparent scam involves a grandparent who will receive a call from a supposed grandchild, seeking some immediate financial help for an “emergency” situation. Markquart shared an example of a “grandchild” saying they have been arrested and that they need bail money.

Another popular scam is the “grandchild” saying they’ve gotten stuck traveling or have been in a car accident.

“They’ll try to keep things real short so you can’t understand them too much,” Markquart said. “One of the last things that they say is, ‘Hey, don’t tell my parents because they’ll be embarrassed, so if you could send me this money it’ll be our secret.’ A lot of times to solve that one all they have to do is call their grandchildren and they’ll find out they are where they always have been.

“The IRS scam is another big one,” he continued.

This scam involves a call from “the IRS” to get tax information or threaten people with jail time if they don’t pay out some money.

“The IRS won’t call you, they’ll send you a letter,” Markquart said. “The IRS doesn’t want to put you in jail, they want to collect money from you. So they’ll work out a plan, or if you can’t pay the full amount, they’ll try to work out something so you can pay part of it.”

Markquart said another popular scam is a phone call saying people have won a lottery of some sort. The caller will then start asking for a small amount of money to release the funds.

“Sometimes they’ll start out in the hundreds,” he said. “So if they tell you that you’ve won $5 million and it only takes a few hundred to get your prize, then it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Then they’ll call back and say they have to cover insurance or shipping and it’s going to cost $2,300, so before you know it you’ve lost maybe $5,000 and you’ll never get the prize.

“Another one is the internet,” he continued. “Sometimes they’ll say they’re with Microsoft and try to get personal information to get inside your computer.”

Markquart also noted that scammers will call pretending to be a medical firm. They then tell you that if you don’t pay a certain amount of money they’ll cut off a spouse’s medical benefits.

“A lot of these are focused on elderly people,” he said. “The reason for that is that they’re trusting; they grew up in a time where it was easier to trust their neighbors and they still expect to have those conversations with people they can trust. It’s too bad, because there are people out there who will prey on that and they’re very good at what they do.

“There was a man in the other day who got a letter in the mail saying he had won some money, and his wife told him to throw it in the garbage. Then he got the same letter a few weeks later and thought there must be something to it. So he called the number on there and they wanted a code that was on the letter, and after he gave the code the caller hung up.

“He didn’t give them any financial information per se, but that code also had his name and his address on that letter. Now they have a victim whose name could be sent out to other scammers because they have that information.”

Other popular scams include phishing for bank or Social Security information, but Markquart notes that people’s banks already have the information they need and people should never give that information to someone if they don’t know who they’re talking to. In addition, scammers can disguise their caller ID to appear as local phone numbers.

He also shared that personal information can be acquired easily, pointing out that scammers can look at the surviving family often listed in obituaries. From there a simple search can be conducted via social media and the internet, and they can then impersonate a loved one. Scammers also ask for payment in unusual ways, asking targets to go to the store and purchase some sort of gift card, such as iTunes cards.

Markquart says people are more than welcome to call the Sheriff’s Office and report suspicious calls, emails or mail. He also said the Better Business Bureau has an online Scam Tracker map that can show what sort of scams are occurring in areas around the country.

“There’s also the ‘Do Not Call’ registry,” he said. “It doesn’t prevent people from calling you, but the legitimate businesses are probably not going to call you if you’re on the list. The Better Business Bureau is a good one to call to report local stuff.”