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Waynesboro Police: Identity theft scams on the rise

September 01, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The bad news is that authorities report seeing a higher number of identity theft scams targeting more people in increasingly diverse ways.

The worse news is that there isn't much they can do about it.

"Officers try to work with the postmaster, the attorney general and Federal Trade Commission, but it's almost impossible to track these people down," said Kim Green, a spokeswoman for the Waynesboro Police Department.

Recently, a Waynesboro woman received a call saying she won $180,000 in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. The caller said a helicopter carrying the prize would be landing at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"In order to do that, they said they needed her to upfront them $2,500 for insurance purposes," Green said.

The officer who took the call instructed the woman to contact Publishers Clearing House directly, although he had concerns when he finished talking to her because it sounded as if the woman was still intent on providing the "insurance" money.

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The Waynesboro Police Department has received approximately 35 reports of identity theft scams so far this year, according to Green.

"I've really noticed it in the past few weeks," she said.

While scams of this type might generally be thought of as something targeting the elderly, the First National Bank of Greencastle has seen them affect all types of customers including young, computer-savvy businesspeople, according to Kim Shockey, sales and business development manager for the bank.

"The likelihood you're going to get your money back is very slim," she said.

The bank has provided seminars about identity theft and has tips for consumers. Among them are:

o No financial institution will call or e-mail you for account information it already has.

o A sense of urgency, like the words "act now," should be a red flag.

o If a contest or eBay customer sends you more money than necessary, then asks for some of it to be returned, the check from that group or person often ends up to be fraudulent.

o Be wary if you supposedly won something from a contest you didn't enter.

o Use your local financial institution as a resource to look into something you suspect might be a scam.

Green said scammers often are using the names of legitimate companies, like calling a cell phone to say that last month's payment wasn't received. Identifying himself as a customer service representative with AT&T Wireless, for instance, the scammer will offer to take the victim's credit card information to process the payment immediately.

Within minutes of receiving such a call, a local man received notification from Western Union that his account was being used for an $800 purchase, according to Green.

"As far as investigation wise, there's not much the officer can do because the address and phone numbers are not valid," she said.

"I think what happens often is we're caught off guard. I think they prey on the inopportune times when you're not thinking," Shockey said, saying that many of the calls come around dinnertime.

Both Shockey and Green said one of the easiest steps to take if a person receives notification from a company is to look for the company's legitimate phone number, then call the company directly to learn whether someone contacted that person.

Federal Trade Commission



1-877-ID-THEFT

www.consumer.gov/idtheft

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