IN DEPTH: Area law enforcement share scams, ways to protect the public

IN DEPTH: Area law enforcement share scams, ways to protect the public

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Lois Horkan received a phone call two years ago from a company that claimed to upgrade her computer several years back.

The people on the other end of the line claimed to be a service company that would provide her computer with “24/7 forever” service, she said. Because they hadn’t serviced her device for a couple years, Horkan was told the company would refund her $800.

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While Horkan thought getting the money back was nice, she grew suspicious and started asking questions. Eventually, they convinced her to give them her bank account number and the people on the other end sent a form for her to write down the company would repay her $800. She was told by the company they would then give her $1,200 and was told to put the extra $400 on gift cards then send the transaction numbers on the back of the card to the company.

Horkan didn’t purchase the gift cards. Instead she went to the bank and told the teller about the ordeal, she said. The teller told her it was a scam and immediately froze her accounts. She reported it to the Reedsburg Police Department and the officer she reported it to told the scammer not to call her anymore after he called seeking the money, she said.

While she was given new bank account numbers the same day, resetting auto pay to the many legitimate companies to pay bills for insurance and cable television companies took over a year to set back up, she said.

“It was just such a mess to clean that all up,” Horkan said.

Horkan, who’s now 80 years old, said she still receives calls from the same company and now hangs up. She told her story to educate others not to give out their information to strange people on the phone or internet.

Horkan isn’t alone. Federal Communications Commission Deputy Press Secretary Will Wiquist said the FCC will receive about 200,000 complaints a year regarding unwanted calls, either robocalls, spoofing or telemarketers.

“It’s by far our largest consumer complaint category every year,” Wiquist said.

Common scams

Wiquist said technology through web based connections or a web search allows scammers to purchase phone numbers to target a certain area. The number can also be “spoofed” or a manipulate caller ID to appear from a local phone number, one you may even owe money too, to trick people into picking up the phone, he said.

He said if a scammer is making a large amount of calls they may use a robotic call to see if you hit a button which will go to a real person operator, usually a call center located overseas.

These types of scams can happen in the United States and the FCC recently issued over $200 million in fines against companies in America using spoofing to scam people, he said.

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There are many different types of scams and the method will depend on the goal of the con artist. Some scammers will use fear or trust for people to hand over their money or personal information, like Social Security numbers, Medicare ID numbers and security passwords.

Wiquist said the FCC received reports about scammers claiming to be charities seeking donations. Some phone scams will call businesses claiming to help with Google Search placements or software companies claiming you need an upgrade to your computer to hack into it to steal information. Another common scam involves pretending there’s a change in Social Security or Medicare cards, he said.

“There’s a lot of methods to get information and what they want to do is convince you that they are a either a real threat or that they are really trustworthy, either way, to get you to fork over money or information,” Wiquist said. “There are any number of ways these scammers try to harass the American people.”

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While he wasn’t sure how scammers obtain the information, logically he said it can be done by a web search or through social media. That information can be used to scare loved ones into thinking they are in a bad situation, like in jail or their car broke down, and need money to get out of it.

Wiquist said anyone can be a victim of scamming, especially with the time, money and frustration involved. Detective Shaun Goyette with the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department said many victims who fall for scams are elderly people, that will usually fall for phone scams because they may be lonely and not have a lot of social interaction, especially if they are widowed.

“Some of these people they are very good at convincing people they are legit,” he said.

Bogus checks

Lt. Andy Stelter said the Reedsburg Police Department receives on average between two to three reports of scams a week. He said the most common scam residents report is receiving a check in the mail, usually after responding to an online ad or being targeted by the victim’s online activity.

Stelter said it looks like a normal check and will be cashed by the bank like a normal one. While he said banks have become more aware of the activity and will ask more questions before any action is taken, if the check ends up not clearing because it’s a forged check and the victim has already delivered the funds to the scammer, the victim loses out.

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Stelter said to look out for “anything that’s too good to be true” because it usually isn’t real.

“If you’re selling an item for $500 and someone sends you $1,500 that’s a red flag,” he said. “No one is going to give you money and then expect you to send money back to them. It doesn’t work that way. They are going to get their own shipper, they are going to come out and get it.”

Another common scam Stelter mentioned is the “lottery scam,” where a scammer says their victim won the lottery and needs to send money to claim their prize. If the scammer gets the money, they realize they have a gullible person and will keep calling the victim to say more money needs to be sent to claim the prize, he said.

Stelter said scams are similar from two decade ago, with a different method of transferring the fraudulent message, whether email, phone, text or an app.

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Depending on the scam, there isn’t much the police department can do because of the limited information and some of the cases may involve scammers from out of the country, he said. The most it can do is tell the victim or their family to not send more money.

Other detectives and officers from local law enforcement department agreed they will follow up as much as possible with the resources they have, but can only go so far especially if money has already been transferred to another country.

“There’s sites online where you can report it at the scam numbers,” Stelter said. “I did check with the feds one time and they said if it’s over several hundred thousand dollars let us know otherwise were not going to get involved in it.”

Counterfeit currency

Sauk Prairie Police Department Officer and Interim Detective Andrew Lewis said fake currency in previous years has usually been pieces of paper where anyone could tell it was counterfeit. Now scammers are taking the steps to make the fake currency look real, he said.

Lewis said these scammers will “wash” a lower bill, like a $10 bill, with chemicals and reprint a $100 over top the blank currency. Because the actual material used to make money is printed over the lower bill, a currency pen will not pick up the fraudulent money, he said.

“It looks like a real $100 bill so the technology is way better than what it was 20 years ago,” Lewis said.

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The only way to tell is to check the watermark on the right hand corner of the bill and the bar code and if both are different from the face and the amount it’s fake, he said. The serial number will be the same on multiple bills, rather than different, he said.

The act is to con businesses by purchasing a small item with fake $100 bills in exchange for real cash back as change. These criminals will head to multiple towns around an area, so many jurisdictions can be involved in the case.

“We work together in an attempt to identify them,” Lewis said.

Lewis said businesses or banks will notice the fake currency and contact the Secret Service to follow up on the case.

Lewis said the department will educate and update the public with a post on its Facebook page so they are aware what to look out for, he said.

Credit card scams

Like the Reedsburg Police Department, Detective Kristi Seidl said the Lake Delton Police Department has seen check fraud scams but has also received reports of cloning credit cards.

She said the number of scams reports the police department receives has increased. Mainly it’s groups of people from out of the area or even out of state bringing the scam into the Lake Delton area, she said. With the option to pay for an item using smart phone technology, some will put credit card numbers on their phone and use it instead of presenting a card to the cashier, making it easier for scammers to use someone else’s credit card.

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“Because they can just enter somebody else’s credit card into their phone and set up their own and use somebody else’s money,” Seidl said.

Seidl said these scammers will steal credit card numbers through multiple fraudulent ways, like the online black market, and put those numbers on a credit card with their name to use at a business.

Seidl said for consumers to protect themselves by never giving out their credit card information to someone they don’t know and never give it out to an unsecured source.

Detective Shaun Goyette with the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department said three subjects from Florida were using stolen credit cards at a local grocery store in 2016. It was discovered they stole the information from gas pump skimmers, small devices that saves credit card numbers for a certain period of time after unplugging credit card readers.

Officers found the criminals had equipment to extract the data from the device, upload it to a laptop and email the credit card numbers to a subject in Florida who would create fake credit cards with the information. Goyette said officers in Juneau County reached out to the FBI and Secret Service for search warrants and additional help in finding other people involved in the scheme.

“A lot of the numbers that were taken we determined came from Minnesota from the Twins Cities area,” he said.

Goyette said the FBI told him the subjects in the case were different from other credit card skimming cases because they had “everything they needed,” including six skimmers, counterfeit credit cards, blank gift cards and a device in the vehicle to program credit cards with different numbers.

Because these types of scams will hit local areas, victims will often not realize something is amiss on their statement and not realize it’s a counterfeit transaction, he said.

Goyette said for those paying at the pump to check for security tape on gas pumps and make sure it’s still intact. If you don’t see it, pay inside, he said. Since credit card skimmers can also be located on the outside of the pump, Goyette said grab the plastic end where the card is inserted to see if it comes loose.

“So if you grab a hold of that plastic where the card goes in and give that a yank, if it’s a skimmer it will come off pretty easily,” he said, adding the same scam can happen at ATMs.

Federal law

Federal legislators have taken action on preventing robocalls with President Donald Trump signing into law Dec. 30 a bipartisan bill called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act or TRACED Act.

Winquist said the FCC will no longer have to warn spam callers before issuing them a fine. The statute of limitations was lengthened from two years to four years, he said.

“There’s some good tools in there and we are happy for that support,” Winquist said.

All legislators from Wisconsin voted yes on the new law. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, said he approved it because of the number of provisions listed making it more difficult for consumers to receive unwanted calls.

“I think this is one issue that’s seemed to have really brought people from various political ideologies together,” he said. “We all hate robocalls, just like our constituents, that was a good thing Congress could get together and work with those federal agencies to make sure we are addressing this.”

Pocan said some of the provisions in the law include stricter penalties, making it harder for scammers to spoof numbers and phone companies providing free software warning if a call is from a potential spammer, so consumers don’t have to answer. According to the law, the Department of Justice and FCC will assemble a group to report on the effort of the prohibition of certain robocalls. Pocan said he wasn’t sure when that would happen.

Pocan is positive the new measures will prevent robocalls and protect consumers. Stelter believes the opposite and scammers could find a way around it.

“It will be helpful but I don’t think it is going to solve the problem,” Stelter said.

Consumer tips

Winquist said consumers should be aware about spoofing and a call appearing from a trustworthy source may not be one at all. He said to not answer calls from unknown numbers and not to provide personal information over the phone. If you do get a suspicious call from someone claiming to be a local source or a government agency, its best to hang up and look up the legitimate phone numbers or addresses and call that number instead to verify.

Winquist said those who want to file a complaint FCC can call 1-888-CALL-FCC or go to He also recommends looking into blocking tools available by phone companies or third party apps.

Stelter said education is the best way to provide awareness of the different types of scams. He said for those who receive fake calls to “hang up the phone” trust their gut and check with the company, family or the local police department, even dispatchers, for authenticity.

“Don’t take the word of the person on the line do your own research on it,” he said.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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