NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 21, 2014

Be vigilant of scam callers

The Amesbury Beat
Officer Tom Hanshaw

---- — One of the most interesting aspects of police work and the criminal justice system for that matter is the variety of things you come across each day and especially during a career. No two calls are ever exactly alike and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along.

We are surely in a different world today, when compared to decades past, but one thing remains: You’ve got to watch your stuff because someone is ready to steal it. Unfortunately, technology makes all our lives easier, even the crooks. Although it’s a great big world, it has become very easy for criminals in lands far away to “walk” into your living room.

Over the past few weeks, we have taken reports from a couple of residents who got quite a surprise when trying to file their income taxes — learning their returns had already been filed. Apparently this has become a serious problem, forcing the IRS to hire an army of investigators to address the matter. In both cases, the Social Security numbers of the victims were used to file returns electronically.

One victim also learned the person who stole her identity used her name and address plus still owed several hundred dollars in back taxes. Unfortunately, resolving this type of crime is not easy and takes a tremendous amount of time.

The other victim planned to use his anticipated return on his child’s upcoming college tuition bill. Neither victim even knew about the crime until now, despite checking their credit reports earlier.

Of course, perpetrators of the ever popular “sweepstakes scam” now utilize technology too. Recently victims report being contacted by someone who promises a grand prize or a low-interest loan. The victim is asked to purchase a reloadable debit card, such as “Green Dot,” and then provide the caller with the code on the back, to cover the taxes or fees. Once this happens, the criminal has access to the money on the card, from anywhere in the world.

Some communities are also reporting a similar scam where the caller claims to be from National Grid and threatens to have power cut unless payment is made by a card within an hour. We have also seen callers who inform the victim they missed jury duty and need to pay a fine to remove an outstanding warrant. Unfortunately, once you purchase these cards, provide the number and hang up, the money is long gone.

Whether it’s an offer on Craigslist for a used car, vacation getaway or apartment for rent, you’ve got to be careful. If someone is willing to send you a bunch of extra money, asking you to send the difference back, it’s a scam. Even if you get a check, which looks real and the bank accepts, you still may need to wait as long as two weeks to assure it’s not counterfeit. You are responsible for funds deposited into your account, even when a check is returned as fraudulent. Once you wire them your money, they’ve got it and you won’t get it back.

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Tom Hanshaw is the crime prevention officer for the Amesbury police department.