Scams prevalent in White County

By | November 14, 2006 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
Law enforcement officials have been alerted to some scams that prey mostly on senior citizens and are becoming a vast part of their daily workload.
The first sign of trouble is when a person receives a letter stating he or she has won a large amount of money, usually in a sweepstakes or lottery. Detective Chris Isom, of White County Sheriff Department, said those who receive these types of correspondences should be skeptical about their origin.
“We’ve had five in two days,” said Isom, when he spoke with The Expositor on Thursday. “We’ve gotten a little bit of both. They all function the same way.”
Isom said the scams will declare “you’re a big winner,” “here’s the check,” and “for a certain amount of money,” etc. These are the typical catch-phrases attached to the scams to entice the people to go one step farther, which is where the trouble begins, according to Isom.
The scam entices the individual to cash the check, which may be for several thousand dollars. The person is encouraged to keep a large portion of the check and send a small portion back to where the check originated.
“When the people go to the bank, they find out it’s a fraudulent check,” said Isom. “If they don’t check it out first and someone was to cash it for them, they’d be guilty of passing a forged instrument [check].
“The Internet scam we’ve got going on right now is [that] good, honest citizens will put a four-wheeler, backhoe or a car or something on a sales network, and somebody will offer them the money. Then, what they find out is the person that offered them the money will send them more money than they’ve asked for their item.”
The “purchaser” will tell the “seller” the extra money was sent to cover the expense of shipping. However, the “excess” money is above the amount needed by the seller to pay for shipping costs. So, the purchaser will then tell the seller to cash the check and send them back the excess money.
“What you’ll find out when you get the check from them is it’s a fraudulent check,” said Isom, “and when they go to checking into who the owner is, they could be from France for Africa – more commonly Africa. They’ll find out these individuals are not in America.
“What it boils down to once again is if you went to the bank and passed that check, it would be a forged check, and you are responsible for that money.”
Isom said all the banks have been cooperative about alerting law enforcement of any possible scams.
“It’s not just a problem with us,” said Isom. “It’s a problem across the country. Ultimately, I guess what we’re trying to say is if it seems too good to be true, it is. If you didn’t enter a sweepstakes and if you didn’t enter a lottery, you’re not going to win money off a sweepstakes or lottery.
For the past month, Isom said he and Detective John Ford have averaged at least one reported scam every other day. In addition, forgery and worthless check problems are still prevalent. Isom estimates approximately 40 percent of the detectives’ time is spent on these type cases.
Isom and Ford are also working jointly with Sparta Police Department on some of the cases. Ford said most of the mail scams seem to be focused on senior citizens.
Ford recently returned from a training session with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that focused primarily on mail and Internet fraud.
“People need to be aware of frauds and scams,” said Ford. “Don’t give out your personal information – Social Security numbers, address, bank account numbers.”
According to Isom, anyone who receives such a check in the mail or suspects this type of Internet should immediately contact White County Sheriff Department, 836-3607, or Sparta Police Department, 836-3734.

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