October 27, 2013

Police warn of charity phone scams

By Rob McDaniel
Staff Writer


As the holiday season approaches, officers of the London Police Department are trying to increase awareness about scams local residents fall victim to and are warning people to be vigilant.

“Often times, we see that our elderly citizens are the targets of scams, especially this time of year,” said Police Chief Stewart Walker.  “Scammers know people in this region of America are good people, and they take advantage of their good nature.”

According to Major Derek House, “Scams cost Americans more than $40 billion in false and deceptive sales per year.”

People often fall victim of phony credit card offers, fake vehicle warranty extensions, false charities and calls from 900 or 976 numbers.

“Those numbers are a legal way for scammers to bill you while you talk to them on the phone,” House said.  “The best way to prevent this is to use your caller I.D. and answering machine to screen calls.  If you don’t recognize a number, wait for them to leave a message.”

Recent scams in this area include fake charities that are being used to take advantage of elderly residents.

“You have to be really careful these days,” Walker said.  “(Scammers) will slightly change a charity’s name to deceive someone.  For example, the Fraternal Order of Police might be changed to the Fraternal Police Order.  They change things up slightly to sound legitimate.  If someone is approached by a charity, they should question them.  If the charity is hard pressed to explain how your donation will be spent or if they can’t provide proof they’re a tax deductible charity, then don’t give them information and contact the police immediately.”

According to House, individuals are getting calls from a phony charitable organization thanking them for contributions they didn’t actually make.

“They call older people and are real friendly, they thank them for donating to a particular charity and then ask to get their method of payment to schedule their contributions,” House said.  “Our elderly people sometimes can’t remember if they made these contributions or not.  The scammers then push them or even bully them into giving them their credit card or checking account information.  Once that happens, the scammers clean them out.”

Chief Walker and the police department offered several tips to avoid scams such as these at any time of year:

• Be watchful of emails and messages on social media websites asking for your personal information.  If you don’t know the sender, don’t open the message.

• Be wary of sweepstakes that say “you’re a guaranteed winner” but need you to make a contribution.  According to Walker, “By law, you should never have to make a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.”

• If someone sends you a check and asks you to cash it and then send them back half of it, don’t do it.  House said this is a common scam that forces victims to actually commit theft by deception, a felony, by cashing a fictitious check.

• Don’t ever keep personal belongings in your car and in open sight when you are not in it.  If going to a store or home for the night, either bring your things with you or lock them in the trunk.

• Keep purses and wallets in easy to control places.  Don’t leave them in your shopping cart. Keep them on your body where you can see them at all times.

“It’s really sad,” Walker said.  “We have to remind people of this every year.  It’s because people around here are generally good people. They trust each other and want to see the best of their neighbors. Unfortunately, the bad guys know that and take advantage of it.”

For more information or if you believe you have become the victim of a scam, contact the London Police Department at (606) 878-7004.