The information contained in this blog is provided courtesy of Officer Tammy Jacobsen from the Skokie Police Department. She is part of the Crime Prevention and Community Relations Unit and regularly speaks to area residents about how to protect themselves from the latest financial scams out there. The following are commonly reported scams in our area:
1. Grandparent scams: This scam goes something like this: Phone rings and victim answers. The caller says Hi Grandma/Grandpa. The victim will then name a grandchild (Is this Josh?). The caller says yes and launches into a story about being in a car accident or some other situation where he/she needs immediate cash. Can the Grandparent help by going to Western Union and wiring the money to the grandchild? Of course, the grandparent will help. Finally, the caller/grandchild asks that the grandparent not to tell Mom. The Grandparent wires the money to the "grandchild", only to find out later that it was a ruse and the money is gone. One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from this scam is to phone Mom before wiring money. Mom will know where the child is and if he/she needs money.
2. Greendot Scam: The victim will receive a phone from a utility or phone company indicating that the monthly bill is overdue and the victim faces an immediate interruption of services. As explained by the representative, the quickest way to avoid having the utility turned off is to purchase a greendot card. These are gift cards that can be purchased at gas stations or convenience stores in any amount. They can be cashed over the phone by providing the serial number from the back of the card. If you receive a call like this, you can check out if it is accurate by placing a call to the utility company and inquiring. Always double-check by initiating your own call to the company.
3. Health and medical scams; These usually involve mobile medical vans that are set up in a parking lot and screen for things like heart disease or diabetes for a nominal fee or free. In order to get the test done, the victim is asked to provide an insurance or medicare card. Medicare cards contain a person's date of birth and social security number. Once you provide the mobile van operators/scammers with this information, your identity is compromised and in the hands of scammers. Before you visit a mobile van, check with the sponsoring organization to confirm they are operating in the specific location. Another way to confirm the legitimacy of a mobile medical van is to notify the police. Most entities that do business in an area are required to notify the police or obtain a permit or license from the local government to do business. If the police don't know about it, then chances are it's a scam.
4. Online dating scams: No matter how many warnings are out there about not giving money to people that you meet online, it still happens with regularity. If you are online dating and meet someone virtually, do not send them money. Never, ever. It's a scam and you will lose your money. You'll also get your heart broken at the same time. I"ll address this particular scam in an upcoming blog post.
5. Gypsy-ruse burglary scams. These scams involve a meter reader who stops by your house to read the meter. While you go the basement with the meter reader to show him where it is located, a second scammer enters your house and takes your valuables and money. By the time you come back upstairs (or in from the backyard), the second scammer is gone with your belongings. A variation is a contractor who is working the neighborhood and notices that your driveway or roof is in disrepair. They will fix it for you. After paying them you discover that they never did the work. In the case of black topping the driveway, you find it's black paint that washes away in the rain. Be very cautious who you let into your house. If someone claims to be a meter reader, get their name and ID badge number. Have them wait at the door while you verify their identity with the utility company. Or call the police and ask if the meters are being read in the area. If they do not stick around, you will know it's a scam. If you are approached by a contractor to do work on your house, notify the police. They will know if there are gypsies operating in the area.
There are many, many scams out there. Before you give money or personal information to anyone in person, over the phone or online, independently verify their identity. Initiate your own contact with any company that solicits money from you or wants access to your home. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is so be careful.