A letter offering cash or prizes comes in the mail from an unfamiliar organization. However, to receive the award, the recipient must send a certain amount of money for taxes, shipping or processing.
Jason Wilkins, Abilene police investigator, said this scenario is probably a scam.
“They can be done by telephone or sometimes by mail, and they’re typically carried out overseas,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins said the elderly are most often the targets of these type of scams.
Kris Kobiskie, community projects officer of Abilene Police Deparmtnet, said anyone responding to these types of notices would be wise to carry out extensive research on whether it is something they want to pursue.
“There are a lot of people out there trying to phish for information,” Kobiskie said. “They’ll pretend to be something legitimate and just try to get information from people. Be sure you know where it’s going.”
Though many scams are carried out over the phone or via direct mail, others are present on the World Wide Web. These types of scams often fall into the category of identity theft.
“On the Internet, generally, you can do some research on the site or through the Better Business Bureau,” Kobiskie said. “A lot of times there will be legitimate-looking sites that look just like your banking site. There are certain features you can look for. A good place will say ‘https as a secure site.’ There will be a little lock somewhere in one of the toolbars. That kind of thing.”
Kobiskie said another trusted source is the Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov.
“They’ve got a bunch of information on identity theft that people can look up, and that’s a great resource if you think you’ve been victimized,” Kobiskie said. “We ask people to give us a call because a lot of times, the identity is kind of hard to tell, whether something happened with it, so we have people file a police report with us. They’ll need that later to file with the FTC anyway.”
Kobiskie said the FTC saves the report in a database for national tracking to study current tends in scamming and what new scams are on the horizon. While it is important to file with the FTC, Kobiskie said the police station is a smart first stop.
“We always recommend they file the local report first and then we can confirm, ‘yeah, you were a victim of identity theft’ or ‘no, it was probably something else,’” Kobiskie said. “We can kind of steer them in the right direction before they waste too much time.”
Abilene area scams
Kobiskie said the two most common scams filed in the Abilene area are predicament scams and inheritance scams. Kobiskie said predicament scams are a play on an old trick.
“Basically, someone you know is in some kind of predicament and they’re trying to get you to send money to get them out of a predicament,” Kobiskie said. “Whether they broke down on the side of the road, whether this person might be in jail, whatever it is. There are a variety of different methods trying to get you to send them money.”
Kobiskie said the second classic scam is the inheritance scam.
“They say, ‘Hey, you’ve inherited money. We found this money that you’re entitled to somewhere. Just send us X amount of dollars for processing. We’ll send you the balance back,’ and then you never get the balance back,” Kobiskie said.
The promised inheritance or lost money claim in scams like this is never paid to the recipient. The amount he or she sends for the “processing fee” cannot be retrieved.
Kobiskie closed his scam tips with an old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, most of the time, it is.”