HAMILTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Every year, Americans lose millions of dollars to the activities of scammers who bombard us with online, mail, door-to-door and telephone scams.
We hope this information will increase your awareness of the vast array of scams that target Americans and share with you some easy steps you can take to protect yourself.
Scammers do not discriminate
Scammers target people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels. Fake lotteries, Internet frauds, get-rich-quick schemes and miracle health cures are some of the favored means of separating the unwary from their money. New varieties of these scams appear all the time. We have seen the devastating effects scams can have on people and their families. One of the best ways to combat this kind of fraud is to take measures to prevent you from being caught in the first place.
If you want to stay on top of scams, inform yourself on how to recognize the various types of scams and protect your personal information by visiting law enforcement Organizations’ websites or other reputable organizations.
Lotteries, Sweepstakes and Contests
Many Americans are lured by the excitement of a surprise win and find themselves sending huge amounts of money to claim fake prizes.
What to look for
You cannot win money or a prize in a lottery unless you have entered it yourself, or someone else has entered it on your behalf. You cannot be chosen as a random winner if you don’t have an entry. Many lottery scams try to trick you into providing your banking and personal details to claim your prize. You should not have to pay any fee or tax to claim a legitimate prize. Don’t be fooled by claims that the offer is legal or has government approval—many scammers will tell you this. Instead of receiving a grand prize or fortune, you will lose every cent that you send to a scammer. And if you have provided other personal details, your identity could be misused too. A fake prize scam will tell you that you have won a prize or a contest. You may receive a phone call, an email, a text message or see a pop-up screen on your computer. There are often costs involved with claiming your prize, and even if you do receive a prize, it may not be what was promised to you. The scammers make their money by making you pay fees or taxes, call their premium rate phone numbers or send premium text messages to claim your prize. These premium rate calls can be very expensive, and the scammers will try to keep you on the line for a long time or ask you to call a different premium rate number.
Pyramid schemes promise a large financial return for a relatively small cost. Pyramid schemes are illegal and very risky—and can cost you a lot of money.
What to look for
In a typical pyramid scheme, unsuspecting investors are encouraged to pay large membership fees to participate in moneymaking ventures. The only way for you to ever recover any money is to convince other people to join and to part with their money as well. People are often persuaded to join by family members or friends. But there is no guarantee that you will recoup your initial investment? Although pyramid schemes are often cleverly disguised, they make money by recruiting people rather than by selling a legitimate product or providing a service. Pyramid schemes inevitably collapse and you will lose your money. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investment operations that work in a similar way to pyramid schemes. The Ponzi scheme usually entices new and well-to-do investors by offering higher returns than other investments in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The schemer usually interacts with all the investors directly, often persuading most of the existing participants to reinvest their money, thereby minimizing the need to bring in new participants as a pyramid scheme will do. Be cautious, but do not be discouraged from carefully researching business opportunities based on commissions. There are many legitimate multi-level marketing opportunities where you can legally earn an income from selling genuine products or services.
Money transfer requests
Money transfer scams are on the rise. Be very careful when someone offers you money to help transfer their funds. Once you send money to someone, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get it back.
What to look for
The Nigerian scam (also called the 419 fraud) has been on the rise since the early-to-mid 1990s. Although many of these sorts of scams originated in Nigeria, similar scams have been started all over the world (particularly in other parts of West Africa and in Asia). These scams are increasingly referred to as “advance fee fraud”.
In the classic Nigerian scam, you receive an email or letter from a scammer asking your help to transfer a large amount of money overseas. You are then offered a share of the money if you agree to give them your bank account details to help with the transfer. They will then ask you to pay all kinds of taxes and fees before you can receive your “reward”.
You will never be sent any of the money, and will lose the fees you paid.
Then there is the scam email that claims to be from a lawyer or bank representative advising that a long-lost relative of yours has died and left you a huge inheritance. Scammers can tell such genuine sounding stories that you could be tricked into providing personal documents and bank account details so that you can confirm their identity and claim your inheritance. The “inheritance” is likely to be non-existent and, as well as losing any money you might have paid to the scammer in fees and taxes, you could also risk having your identity stolen. If you or your business is selling products or services online or through newspaper classifieds, you may be targeted by an overpayment scam. In response to your advertisement, you might receive a generous offer from a potential buyer and accept it. You receive payment by check or money order, but the amount you receive is more than the agreed price. The buyer may tell you that the overpayment was simply a mistake or they may invent an excuse, such as extra money to cover delivery charges. If you are asked to refund the excess amount by money transfer, be suspicious. The scammer is hoping that you will transfer the refund before you discover that their check or money order was counterfeit. You will lose the transferred money as well as the item if you have already sent it.
A lot of Internet scams take place without the victim even noticing. You can greatly reduce the chances of being scammed on the Internet if you follow some simple precautions.
What to look for
Scammers can use the Internet to promote fraud through unsolicited or junk emails, known as spam. Even if they only get a handful of replies from the millions of emails they send out, it is still worth their while. Be wary of replying, even just to “unsubscribe”, because that will give a scammer confirmation that they have reached a real email address. Any email you receive that comes from a sender you do not know, is not specifically addressed to you, and promises you some benefit is likely to be spam. Malicious software—also referred to as malware, spyware, key loggers, Trojan horses, or Trojans—poses online security threats. Scammers try to install this software on your computer so that they can gain access to files stored on your computer and other personal details and passwords.
Scammers use a wide range of tricks to get their software onto your computer. They may trick you into clicking on a link or pop-up message in a spam email, or by getting you to visit a fake website set up solely to infect people’s computers. Phishing scams are all a bout tricking you into handing over your personal and banking details to scammers. The emails you receive might look and sound legitimate but in reality genuine organizations like a bank or a government authority will never expect you to send your personal information by an email or online.
Scammers can easily copy the logo or even the entire website of a genuine organization. So don’t just assume an email you receive is legitimate. If the email is asking you to visit a website to “update”, “validate” or “confirm” your account information, be skeptical. Delete phishing emails. They can carry viruses that can infect your computer. Do not open any attachments or follow any links in phishing emails. Online auctions and Internet shopping can be a lot of fun and can also help you find good deals. Unfortunately, they also attract scammers. Scammers will often try to get you to deal outside of online auction sites. They may claim the winner of an auction that you were bidding on has pulled out and offer the item to you. Once you have paid, you will never hear from them again and the auction site will not be able to help you.
Mobile phone scams
Mobile phone scams can be difficult to recognize. Be wary of somebody who talks as if they know you or of redialing a missed call from an unknown number—there may be hidden charges.
What to look for
Ring tone scams might attract you with an offer of a free or low-cost ring tone. What you may not realize is that by accepting the offer, you may actually be subscribing to a service that will keep sending you ring tones—and charging you a premium rate for them. There are many legitimate companies selling ring tones, but there are also scammers who will try to hide the true cost of taking up the offer.
Scammers either don’t tell you that your request for the first ring tone is actually a subscription to a ring tone service or it may be obscured in fine print related to the offer. They also make it difficult for you to stop the service. You have to actively “opt out” of the service to stop the ring tones and the associated charges. Missed call scams start by scammers calling your phone and hanging up so quickly that you can’t answer the call in time. Your phone registers a missed call and you probably won’t recognize the number. You may be tempted to call the number to find out who called you. If it is a scam, you will be paying premium rates for the call without knowing.
Text message scams work in a similar way, but through a Short Message Service (SMS). Scammers send you a text message from a number you may not recognize, but it sounds like it is from a friend—for instance: “Hi, it’s John. I’m back! When are you free to catch up?” If you reply out of curiosity, you might be charged at premium rate for SMS messages (sometimes as much as $4 for each message sent and/or received).
An SMS contest or SMS trivia scam usually arrives as a text message or in an advertisement and encourages you to take part in a trivia contest for a great prize. All you need to do is answer a certain number of questions correctly. The scammers make money by charging extremely high rates for the messages you send and any further messages they send to you. With trivia scams, the first set of questions will be very easy. This is meant to encourage you to keep playing. However, the last one or two questions that you need to answer to claim your “prize” could be very difficult or impossible to answer correctly
Health and medical scams
Medical scams prey on human suffering. They offer solutions where none exist or promise to simplify complex health treatments.
What to look for
Miracle cure scams offer a range of products and services that can appear to be legitimate alternative medicines, usually promising quick and effective remedies for serious medical conditions. The treatments claim to be effective against a very wide range of ailments and are often promoted using testimonials from people who have used the product or service and have been “cured”. Weight loss scams promise dramatic weight loss with little or no effort. This type of scam may involve an unusual or restrictive diet, revolutionary exercise or “fat-busting” devices, or breakthrough products such as pills, patches or creams. The products are promoted with the use of false claims such as “lose 10 lbs., in 10 days” or “lose weight while you sleep”, and often require large advance payments or that you enter into a long-term contract to participate in the program. Fake online pharmacies use the Internet and spam emails to offer drugs and medicine at very cheap prices and/or without the need for a prescription from a doctor. If you use such a service and you actually do receive the products in response to your order, there is no guarantee that they are the real thing. There are legitimate online pharmacies. These businesses will have their full contact details listed on their website and will also require a valid prescription before they send out any medicine that requires one.
Emergency scams target grandparents and play upon their emotions to rob them of their money.
What to look for
In the typical scenario of an emergency scam, a grandparent receives a phone call from a scammer claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren. Callers go on to say that they are in some kind of trouble and need money immediately. They claim to have been in a car accident, are having trouble returning from a foreign country or they need bail money. You may get a call from two people, one pretending to be your grandchild and the other pretending to be either a police officer or a lawyer. Your “grandchild” asks you questions during the call, getting you to volunteer personal information. Callers say that they don’t want other family members to find out what has happened. You will be asked to wire some money through a money transfer company. Often, victims don’t verify the story until after the money has been sent. In some cases, scammers pretend to be your old neighbor or a friend of the family, but for the most part, the emergency scam is directed at grandparents.
Dating and romance scams
Despite the many legitimate dating websites operating in America, there are many dating and romance scams as well. Dating and romance scams try to lower your defenses by appealing to your romantic and compassionate side.
What to look for
Some dating and romance scams work by setting up a dating website where you pay for each email or message you send and receive. The scammer will try to hook you in by continuing to send you vague-sounding emails filled with talk of love or desire. The scammer might also send emails filled with details of their home country or town that do not refer to you much at all. These are attempts to keep you writing back and paying money for use of the scammer’s dating website. Even on a legitimate dating site, you might be approached by a scammer—perhaps someone who claims to have a very sick family member or who is in the depths of despair (often these scammers claim to be from Russia or Eastern Europe). After they have sent you a few messages, and maybe even a glamorous photo, you will be asked (directly or more subtly) to send them money to help their situation. Some scammers even arrange to meet with you, in the hope that you give them presents or money—and then they disappear. In other cases, scammers will try to build a friendship with you, perhaps even sending you flowers or other small gifts. After building a relationship, the scammer will tell you about a large amount of money they need to transfer out of their country, or that they want to share with you. They will then ask for your banking details or money for an administrative fee or tax that they claim needs to be paid to free up the money.
Charity scams take advantage of people’s generosity and kindness by asking for donations to a fake charity or by impersonating a real charity.
What to look for
Charity scams involve scammers collecting money by pretending to be a real charity. The scammers can approach you in many different ways—on the street, at your home, over the phone, or on the Internet. Emails and collection boxes may even be marked with the logos of genuine charities. Often, the scammer will exploit a recent natural disaster or famine that has been in the news. Other scammers play on your emotions by pretending to be from charities that help children who are ill. Scammers can try to pressure you to give a donation and refuse to provide details about the charity, such as their address or their contact details. In other cases, they may simply provide false information. Not only do these scams cost people money; they also divert much needed donations away from legitimate charities and causes. You can contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if they have any information about the organizations that interest you. If the charity is genuine and you want to make a donation, get the charity’s contact details from the phone book or a trusted website. If you do not want to donate any money, or you are happy with how much you may have donated to charities already, simply ignore the email or letter, hang up the phone, or say no to the person at your door. You do not have to give any money at all.
Job and employment scams
Job and employment scams target people looking for a job. They often promise a lot of income—sometimes they even guarantee it—for little or no effort.
What to look for
Work-from-home scams are often promoted through spam emails or advertisements online or in newspaper ads. Most of these advertisements are not real job offers. Many of them are fronts for illegal money laundering activity or pyramid schemes. You might get an email offering a job where you use your bank account to receive and pass on payments for a foreign company. Or you might be offered a job as a “secret shopper” hired to test the services of a check cashing or a money transfer company. Some “job offers” promise that you will receive a percentage commission for each payment you pass on. Sometimes, scammers are just after your bank account details so they can access your account. They might also send you a counterfeit check along with instructions for you to cash the check and transfer a portion of the sum over a money transfer service. A guaranteed employment or income scam claims to guarantee you either a job or a certain level of income. The scammers usually contact you by spam email and the offers often involve the payment of an up-front fee for a “business plan”, certain start-up materials or software. There is a range of scams promoted as business opportunities. You may be required to make an upfront payment (for something that does not work or is not what you expected) or to recruit other people to the scheme (refer to pyramid schemes).
Small business scams
Scams that target small businesses can come in a variety of forms—from bills for advertising or directory listings that were never ordered to dubious office supply offers.
What to look for
Small business operators and individuals with their own Internet sites continue to be confused and caught by unsolicited letters warning them that their Internet domain name is due to expire and must be renewed, or offering them a new domain name similar to their current one. If you have registered a domain name, be sure to carefully check any domain name renewal notices or invoices that you receive. While the notice could be genuine; it could also be from another company trying to sign you up, or it could be from a scammer.
- Check that the renewal notice matches your current domain name exactly. Look out for small differences—for example, “.com” instead of “.ca” or missing letters in the URL address.
- Check that the renewal notice comes from the company with which you originally registered your domain name.
- Check your records for the actual expiry date for your existing domain name.
A directory listing or unauthorized advertising scam tries to bill a business for a listing or advertisement in a magazine, journal or business directory, or for an online directory listing. The scam might come as a proposal for a subscription disguised as an update of an existing listing in a business directory. You might also be led to believe that you are responding to an offer for a free listing when in fact it is an order for a listing requiring later payment Another common approach used by scammers is to call a firm asking to confirm details of an advertisement that they claim has already been booked. The scammer might quote a genuine entry or advertisement your business has had in a different publication or directory to convince you that you really did use the scammer’s product. Be wary of order forms offering advertising opportunities in business directories. These order forms may look like they originate from a well-known supplier of directory advertising, when they don’t. An office supply scam involves you receiving and being charged for goods that you did not order. These scams often involve goods or services that you regularly order—for example, paper, printing supplies, maintenance supplies or advertising. You might receive a phone call from someone falsely claiming to be your “regular supplier”, telling you that the offer is a “special” or “available for a limited time”, or pretending to only confirm your address or existing order. If you agree to buy any of the supplies offered to you, they will often be overpriced and of bad quality.
Many Americans are being targeted by individuals claiming to offer reduced rates or deals for various services.
What to look for
These scams typically involve individuals that make offers for telecommunications, Internet, finance, medical and energy services. This category of scams may also include offers such as extended warranties, insurance, and door-to-door sales. The two most reported service scams targeting Americans are the antivirus software scam and credit card interest rate reduction scams. The scammers involved in the antivirus software scam promise to repair your computer over the Internet. This can involve the installation of software or permission to have remote access to your computer. Payment for the software or repair is typically made by credit card. Downloading software from an unknown source or allowing someone to remotely access your computer is risky. Scammers could use malicious software to capture your personal information such as user names and passwords, bank account information, identity information, etc. Everyone likes to get a deal and scammers know this. The people behind credit card interest rate reduction scams often impersonate financial institutions and claim to negotiate with credit card companies to lower your interest rates. They guarantee they can save you thousands of dollars in interest. The caller will tell you that the lower interest rates are for a limited time only and that you need to act now. You might receive an automated call, prompting you to “press 1” and provide personal information, such as your date of birth and credit card number. You will also be asked to pay a fee up front for the service. The scammers will use this information to make purchases on your credit card or to access cash advances.
Handy hints to protect yourself
Protect your identity
- Only give out your personal details and information where it is absolutely necessary and when you trust the person you are speaking to or dealing with.
- Destroy personal information: don’t just throw it out. You should cut up or shred old bills, statements or cards—for example, credit cards and ATM cards.
- Treat your personal details like you would treat money: don’t leave them lying around for others to take.
- Never send money to anyone that you don’t know and trust.
- Do not send any money or pay any fee to claim a prize or lottery winnings.
- “Jobs” asking you to simply use your own bank account to transfer money for somebody could be a front for money-laundering activity. Money laundering is a serious criminal offence.
- Avoid transferring or wiring any refunds or overpayments back to anyone you do not know.
The face -to-face approach
- If someone comes to your door, ask to see some identification. You do not have to let them in, and they must leave if you ask them to.
- Before you decide to pay any money, if you are interested in what a door-to-door salesperson has to offer, take the time to find out about their business and their offer.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau if you are unsure about a seller that comes to your door.
- If you receive a phone call from someone you do not know, always ask for the name of the person you are speaking to and who they represent. Verify this information by calling the company yourself.
- Do not give out your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.
- It is best not to respond to text messages or missed calls that come from numbers you do not recognize. Be especially wary of phone numbers beginning with 1-900. These may be charged at a higher rate than other numbers and can be very expensive.
- Never reply to a spam email, even to unsubscribe— often, this just serves to “verify” your address to scammers. The best course of action is to delete any suspicious emails without opening them.
- Turn off the “viewing pane” as just viewing the email may send a verification notice to the sender that yours is a valid email address.
- Legitimate banks and financial institutions will never ask you for your account details in an email or ask you to click on a link in an email to access your account.
- Never call a telephone number or trust other contact details that you see in a spam email.
- Install software that protects your computer from viruses and unwanted programs and make sure it is kept current. If you are unsure, seek the help of a computer professional.
- If you want to access a website, use a bookmarked link to the website or type the address of the website into the browser yourself. Never follow a link in an email.
- Check website addresses carefully. Scammers often set up fake websites with addresses very similar to legitimate websites.
- Beware of websites offering “free” downloads (such as music, adult content, games and movies). Downloading these products may install harmful programs onto your computer without you knowing.
- Avoid clicking on pop-up ads—this could lead to harmful programs being installed on your computer.
- Never enter your personal, credit card or online account information on a website that you are not sure is genuine.
- Never send your personal, credit card or online banking details through an email.
- Avoid using public computers (at libraries or Internet cafes) to do your Internet banking or online shopping.
- When using public computers, clear the history and cache of the computer when you finish your session.
- Be careful when using software on your computer that auto-completes online forms. This can give Internet scammer’s easy access to your personal and credit card details.
- Choose passwords that would be difficult for anyone else to guess—for example, passwords that include letters and numbers. You should also regularly change passwords.
- When buying anything online, print out copies of all transactions and only pay via a secure site. If using an Internet auction site, note the ID numbers involved
Scams and you: What to do if you get scammed!
Authorities may not always be able to take action against scams, even if it seems like a scammer might have broken the law.
Reducing the damage
Although it may be hard to recover any money that you have lost to a scam, there are steps you can take to reduce the damage and avoid becoming a target for a follow-up scam. The more quickly you act, the greater your chance of reducing your losses. Report a scam. By reporting the scam to authorities, they may be able to warn other people about the scam and minimize the chances of the scam spreading further. You should also warn your friends and family of any scams that you come across.
If you have been tricked into signing a contract or buying a product or service
Contact the Better Business Bureau and consider getting independent advice to examine your options.
If you think someone has gained access to your online account, telephone banking account or credit card details
Call your financial institution immediately so they can suspend your account and limit the amount of money you lose. Credit card companies may also be able to perform a “charge back” (reverse the transaction) if they believe that your credit card was billed fraudulently. Do not use contact details that appear in emails or on websites that you are suspicious of—they will probably be fake and lead you to a scammer. You can find legitimate contact details in the phone book, an account statement or on the back of your ATM card.
If the scam relates to your health
Stop taking any pills or substances that you are not sure about. See a doctor or other qualified medical professional as soon as you can. Be sure to tell them about the treatment that the scammer sold (take along any substances, including their packaging). Also tell them if you have stopped any treatment that you were taking before the scam.
If you have sent money to someone that you think may be a scammer
If you sent money through an electronic funds transfer (over the Internet), contact your financial institution immediately. If they have not already processed the transfer, they may be able to cancel it. If you sent a check, contact your financial institution immediately. If the scammer hasn’t already cashed your check, they may be able to cancel it. If you sent money through a wire service (such as Western Union or Money Gram), contact the wire service immediately. If you are very quick, they may be able to stop the transfer.
If you have been tricked by a door-to-door seller
Contact the Better Business Bureau and consider getting independent advice to examine your options.
If you have been scammed using your computer
If you were using your computer when you got scammed, it is possible that a virus or other malicious software is still on your computer. Run a full system check using reliable security software. If you do not have security software (such as virus scanners and a firewall) installed on your computer, a computer professional can help you choose what you need. Scammers may have also gained access to your online passwords. Change these using a secure computer.
If the scam involve s your mobile phone
Call your telephone provider and let them know what has happened.
Getting help and reporting a scam
The best agency to contact depends on where you live and what type of scam is involved.
If you think you have spotted a scam or have been targeted by a scam, there are a number of government and law enforcement agencies in Ohio that you can contact for advice or to make a report. This may help you and prevent others from being ripped off by scam operators.
Report scams to the:
Ohio Attorney Generals Office: www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov
Reporting fraud, theft and other crimes contact local law enforcement
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office: www.hcso.org
|District One||(513)825-1500||Colerain, Crosby, Harrison, Miami, Whitewater Townships and the Village of North Bend|
|District Two||(513)574-0007||Green Township|
|District Three||(513)683-3444||Sycamore & Symmes Townships|
|District Four||(513)936-6220||Village of Silverton & Columbia Township|
|District Five||(513)474-5770||Anderson Township|
Dispatch (Non-Emergency) (513)825-2280
Dispatch (Non-Emergency Symmes Township) (513)677-7000
You may also contact Better Business Bureau: www.cincinnati.bbb.org
Credit bureaus can put a fraud alert on your account, which will alert lenders and creditors of potential fraud: