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Thousands lost from scams in Jamestown

The ages of individuals who have been scammed range from high school kids to senior citizens, according to Capt. LeRoy Gross, a detective with the Jamestown Police Department.

Capt. LeRoy Gross, a detective with the Jamestown Police Department, laid out all the fake checks, prepaid gift cards and police reports of scams. Gross said many of the scams that were reported involved significant amounts of money lost. Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun

Eighteen scams have been reported to the Jamestown Police Department this year, but that number could be higher, according to Capt. LeRoy Gross, a detective with the Police Department.

“Not all scams are reported to us,” Gross said. “ … It is very seldom that we get their money back.”

Many of the scams that were reported involved significant amounts of money lost, he said. Gross showed fake checks and reports from the scams.

“Here is $7,200, here is $500, $1,500, here is $5,000,” he said. “One of them is six figures.”

A scam involves people who are stealing by deceptive means, he said.

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Scam artists pose as someone who can be trusted like a government official, law enforcement, bank staff, prospective employers or even family members, according to the North Dakota Office of Attorney General’s website.

The ages of individuals who have been scammed range from high school kids to senior citizens, Gross said.

He said many scams involve wiring money, purchasing Bitcoin and paying in prepaid gift cards. With prepaid gift cards, the scammer will ask for the numbers and codes on the back to get instant access to the funds.

He said another clue of a scam is if someone is told not to tell anyone or law enforcement. Many times law enforcement will tell a victim that he or she is being scammed, but the individual will not believe when told that because he or she has been visiting with the scammer.

“And they get scammed again,” Gross said. “We have had people in this community that have lost thousands of dollars over the years even after being warned by the police. I know of (someone) who cashed out (their) pension, all of it.”

Types of scams

Scams circulating in North Dakota include threatening message scams, IRS enforcement calls, sweepstakes scams, online classified ads, computer scams, jury duty, foreign lotteries, inheritance/beneficiary scams, business scams and work-at-home schemes, according to the attorney general’s website.

Gross said online dating scams involve someone wanting to hook up but having issues traveling in the country they are in. The scammer will ask to borrow money, promising to pay it back to the individual.

“Then, this person says, ‘I have an inheritance. I can’t pay you because I’m traveling and unable to,’” he said. “And then this person (who is being scammed) starts wiring money or picking up gift cards, then reading the numbers on the back of the gift card, which now they have access to all that money.”

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Another common online dating scam involves meeting someone online and starting a long-distance relationship, Gross said. He said scammers convince people to take and send inappropriate photos of themselves to them.

“Then they tell you that they aren’t who they are, and then they threaten to disseminate these inappropriate pictures (to your Facebook friends) that you just sent for some cash,” he said. “It is never a good idea to take inappropriate pictures of yourself, ever.”

He also described a secret shopper scam when an individual receives a check that looks legitimate, deposits it into a bank account, believes he or she is working for a competitor or business in town and does price checks at other businesses.

“Then they will tell you, ‘Hey, some of that money we sent you, can you wire that back to us,’” he said. “So now you just wire that money out of your account that was deposited with a fake check, so now when you wire it back to them, all of a sudden you are $2,000 in the hole.”

Online classified advertisements such as the marketplace on Facebook involve the scammer copying someone’s advertisement, such as a vehicle, for a much lower price than its value.

“That is another clue: If this is too good to be true,” Gross said. “The next thing you are going to find out is that you are going to have to wire money or other payment or send cash, which is never a good idea.”

If an individual is selling something online, a scammer will offer and send a check for more than what the seller is asking, Gross said. He said the scammer will tell the seller he or she only has one check and will ask if the check can be cashed with the difference being sent back to the scammer.

“So you go and deposit a check for $4,200 and then wire them $1,800 back, you just lost a couple thousand bucks,” he said.

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The money from a fake check that gets deposited goes into a bank account, but then gets routed back to a fictitious bank after someone wires the money to a scammer, he said.

“The bank is not the victim here; you are the victim,” Gross said. “The bank is going to get their money back from you. You need to be careful when you start depositing checks from people you don't know personally.”

He said nobody is going to send money to someone he or she does not know.

Many of the scams involve winning a significant amount of money and paying attorney fees to get it, Gross said. He said the scammer tells the individual that if law enforcement is told about the winnings, it will get taxed.

“These people are instructed to wire the money, pay in gift cards, Bitcoin or some other practice they are not familiar with,” he said.

Gross said bank employees need to be wise about scams when they are being approached by people to wire money.

“Banks here in this city, there are many times that a customer gets turned away because they think the customer is getting scammed,” he said.

Business scams

Common scams involve phony invoices when a scammer will send a fake invoice for supplies hoping that a business will pay it without paying close attention, according to the attorney general’s website. Another scam involves a scammer posing as a customer to place a large order and paying with a fake check for more than the order amount with instructions to wait until the check clears so the business can wire the extra money to a third party.

Gross said two scams reported to the Police Department involved businesses being scammed.

One scam involved a business in the community where its bank received an email that a business owner authorized wiring money to another individual across the country.

“That was a problem with probably communication with that bank and business owner,” he said, “so that was unfortunate.”

He said another scam involved a restaurant that received a call about a missing payment for food supplies. The scammer told the business that a payment was needed or the truck with food supplies will not come, he said.

“That very dedicated manager went and pooled some money together - some of their own,” he said. “And then was told to make those payments with gift cards.”

He said businesses might get a fax or email that a payment is due for some supplies and the person in charge of the account has to be wise about what is real and what is not.

Finding the scammer

Gross said almost all scam cases in general were derived out of the country, making it difficult for law enforcement to track the scammer.

Most people who report a scam are told to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, he said. Then the scam can be tracked to see how big it is and how many people have been contacted by the scammer.

“These people can be tracked overseas, but it is a very extensive investigation,” he said. “Once this money has been wired or gift cards have been purchased and you give them the numbers on the back, it is really out of our hands at that point.”

Gross said money can be recovered if someone mails cash in an envelope to a scammer and the scam is reported within a day.

“Usually it is three or four days later by the time those cases get reported to us,” he said, “so it is too late.”

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How to avoid scams

The North Dakota Office of Attorney General’s website gives the following tips to help prevent scams:

  • Never give out personal information such as your address, date of birth, Social Security number or bank or credit card information.
  • Do not send money no matter how urgent it may seem.
  • Do not trust your caller ID. Technology makes it easy to create a fake name and number to display on a caller ID or as the “sender” of a text message.
  • If you are asked to send or wire money or buy prepaid cash cards, stop because it is a clue that it is a scam.
  • A government agency or business will never ask anyone to wire money, buy prepaid cards or deposit money into another person’s account. If you are sent a check to deposit into an account first so you are “not out any money” it is a sign that it’s a scam.
  • No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery will ask for money upfront for you to receive your winnings.
  • As soon as you complete the deposit/transfer transaction or read numbers from the back of a prepaid gift card, your money is gone.
  • Hang up every time. Don’t “press 1” to be taken off a call list because it confirms to the scammer that someone answers that number and you listened to the message, resulting in more scam calls.

Related Topics: JAMESTOWN
Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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