Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 8, 2012

Scam operators are always creating new ways to separate us from our money

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— We are seeing another episode of scam operators plying their trade, this time in Tazewell County, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try their luck in other Virginia counties or jump the state line into West Virginia. Tazewell County’s law enforcement authorities recently warned residents, especially the elderly, about all the new scams being used now.

One of the latest ploys to separate honest people from their money appeals to compassion. The scam operator sends an email supposedly from a loved one who is either jailed in a foreign country or marooned in one; of course, the victim is asked to send money either for a lawyer or a ticket home. I received one of these myself a couple of months ago. Somehow, the scam operator got a friend’s mailing list and fired off a message saying he had been robbed in Scotland and needed money to get home. None of us believed it because we all knew he was safe at home, but people who have family and friends they don’t see regularly might be more prone to fall for this scam.

One Tazewell woman wired $5,000 after getting an email stating that one of her relatives had been arrested in Somalia. The relative was actually safe at home.

Scam operators make these messages convincing by mining personal facts from Internet sites such as Facebook. They can quickly learn how to describe the victim’s house, list the names of his or her children, and provide other details that make the plaintive cry for help more believable.

Other scams involve ploys such as telling victims that they’ve won $200 or more in gasoline or that they’ve won the lottery. Naturally, they are asked to pay a fee so the prize can be processed and forwarded to them.

Scam operators may claim that they are officials from Social Security or a bank that need to “verify’ Social Security numbers or bank numbers. They get the victim to state the real numbers by purposefully listing wrong ones. A variation of this ploy uses a professional-looking website that looks like it came from a bank. I received one of these once, but it wasn’t from my bank.

While I was writing this column, I took a call from a local woman who said she had just received a call telling her that she had won $2,600 toward a vacation in Cancun, Mexico; naturally, they wanted her credit card number. She called the number back and asked to speak with a manager. When she finally got one, she asked for his name, and he would only give his first name after he had thought about it for a moment.

She gave me the phone number and I tried it. A recording immediately said, “We’ve been trying to reach you” and told me that I had won $2,600 toward a Cancun vacation. I don’t remember entering any contest.

Then Kate Coil, who was sitting nearby, remembered a posting her brother had put on Facebook. He was the one millionth person to visit a website, so he had just won a new laptop computer. Amazingly enough, he was the one millionth caller the day before. What amazing luck!

At a recent press conference about a recent wave of scams, Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt recalled on old rule that still applies today: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Another rule is to stop and think before sending money. Once you send money, the case is after the fact. The stolen money is often sent overseas, so there is little chance of getting it back. Law enforcement agencies don’t mind people calling about suspicious calls or emails; especially if it means that they can keep somebody from losing their money.

Sometimes the scam operators claim to represent charities, even police benevolent societies. A real charity will not mind if you want to call back later or mind if you want the charity’s phone number. Again it is best to contact police first if the call or email seems suspicious in any way.

Oh, and the classic springtime scam, the paving scam, is starting to appear. The scam operator claims to have some extra asphalt left over from a job and will offer to pave driveways or seal them for a small fee. Then the price goes up after the job is done, and the work is washed away by the next rainstorm.

We all have to be vigilant when we answer the telephone or check our email because scam operators are always creating new ways to separate us from our money and new places to practice their trade. When one community starts realizing that a scam is being worked, the criminals start focusing on other regions. In some ways, they are like the old-time snake oil sellers that changed their show’s name and appearance every time they moved on to a new town. Criminals working scams have been with us in one form or another as long as we have had civilization. They will change their tactics, and the rest of us will have to change tactics along with them.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior report. Contact him at