ARLINGTON — Amid a recent increase in various types of reported scams, Chief Julie Flaherty and the Arlington Police Department would like to share with residents tips on how to prevent themselves from falling victim.
The department has seen an increase in scams over the past several weeks. In one instance, a victim purchased multiple gift cards totaling several thousand dollars after receiving an email about a refund to a nonexistent PayPal account. After giving the scammer the gift card serial numbers, the victim was told the gift cards were invalid and needed to be purchased again.
In a separate instance, a victim received a pop-up message on their computer stating that it had been hacked. The victim called the displayed phone number and spoke with a person claiming to be an FBI agent who told them that they may be the victim of identify theft. The victim was advised by the scammer to buy multiple gift cards and call back with the serial numbers. The victim was then advised to withdraw several thousand dollars from their bank account in order for it to be encrypted via Bitcoin, and to use the last four digits of their social security number as a pin number.
The investigations into these incidents are ongoing. However, the money sent to the scammer in both instances most likely cannot be recovered.
The department has also received a report of the “grandparent scam” in which scammers call an individual and inform them that a relative has been arrested — sometimes in a foreign country. The scammers may pose as the relative of the victim or a lawyer. The scammers then request bail payment in cash or in the form of a pre-paid gift card, given to a person posing as a courier or bail bondsman who arrives at the victim’s home. In an alternative approach, the scammers request money be transferred via a wire service, such as Western Union.
“The ‘grandparent scam’ is becoming increasingly common and specifically targets seniors in the community, so we encourage everyone to be aware of the warning signs and share them with those they know who may be part of a targeted population,” Chief Flaherty said. “However, there are many different types of scams out there and anyone can fall victim, so it’s important for everyone to know how to recognize a scam and protect themselves.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the following four signs to help people recognize possible scams:
- Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know. They might use a real name, like the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business you know, like a utility company, a tech company, or even a charity asking for donations.
- Scammers say there’s a problem or prize. They might say you’re in trouble with the government, that you owe money, that someone in your family had an emergency, or that there’s a virus on your computer. Some scammers say there’s a problem with one of your accounts and that you need to verify some information. Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes but have to pay a fee to get it.
- Scammers pressure you to act immediately. They might tell you not to hang up so you can’t check out their story. They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted.
- Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way. They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back. Some will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), tell you to deposit it, and then send them money.
The Arlington Police Department would like to remind residents that legitimate organizations do not ask for payment by a gift card, pre-paid debit card or money transfer service. This should be a significant red flag. Pre-paid debit cards and gift cards are not a legitimate way to pay for goods and services. They cannot be traced, and once funds are transferred, the money cannot be recovered.
Additionally, residents are reminded to never give out their personal information, especially their social security, bank account or credit card numbers.
The FTC also recommends that if you get an email or text message from a company you do business with and you think it’s real, it’s still best not to click on any links. Instead, contact them using a website you know is trustworthy, or look up their phone number. Don’t call a number they gave you or the number from your caller ID.
To avoid falling victim to the grandparent scam, the Arlington Police Department also recommends that if someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:
- Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
- Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger could not answer.
- Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
- Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
- Don’t wire money or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
Report any type of scam or fraud you detect at ftc.gov/complaint, or call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP. For more information about scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website or the state’s website.
If anyone has questions or believes they have been victimized, they are encouraged to call the Arlington Police Department at 781-643-1212.