PSA: Scams… Same ol’ song and dance…

So, I know that most of this is old news to anyone with internet, but I found some of it entertaining and some just a bit more concerning. I’ll start with a little game I like to call the “telephone game.”

My phone rang for the umpteenth time in the past few days with the same number that was still unknown to me (209-813-0503, and yes… it has been reported. More on that later…). So, I decided that since they were so very desperate to get in touch with me (but never wanted to leave a message), I would answer. A very heavily accented (I can’t really tell you what the accent is because it changed locals and dialects about five times during the conversation) voice asked if I was the person to whom they were speaking (not in those terms, but you get the idea). The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: Yes, this is.

Caller: This is Kevin [um…yeah, whatever], and I am with the U.S. Government Grass Department…

Me: The what department?

Kevin: The U.S. Government GRNSS department.

Me: Ok, I’m still not getting it. What department is that?

Kevin: The U.S. Governm….

Me: Kevin, yes. I got the whole government part in this, but I am completely unfamiliar with which department that might be. Perhaps we are experiencing a linguistic problem?

Kevin: The GRNSS… G-R-A-N…

Me: Oh! Grants. The grants department. We’re talking about money. I don’t have any. You’ll need to talk to someone else.

Kevin: No, ma’am. I am with the U.S. Govern…

Me: Yep. Gotcha, Kevin, but I don’t have any extra to contribute. The government already took mine, and I gave at the office.

Kevin: *crickets* Um, no. You have qualified to receive $7193 for your own purposes.

Me: What?!? You mean you want to give ME money? That’s how much?

Kevin: $7193.

Me: Ok. So, you gonna mail me a check or something?

Kevin: You have two options to receive the money. You can receive it by bank account, like checking, savings or something. Or you can receive it on plastic card.

Me: Plastic card? Not paper or metal? Ok… so, I definitely want money. How do I get this $7193?

Kevin: I need to verify that it is you.

Me: Ok.

At this point, Kevin proceeded to verify address and phone number. I was a little disturbed by the address portion of the program, but it’s not like it is difficult to Google these things. Once my identity had apparently be verified, we continued.

Kevin: Now, for what purpose would you use this money?

Me: Why?

Kevin: Excuse me? Why what?

Me: Why do you need to know? If I have qualified already, why would I need to explain myself?

Kevin: Um… we… I mean the U.S. Government Grants Department needs to inquire if there is a purpose for the funds dispensed. For repayment of debt? For purchasing a car?

Me: Well, that wouldn’t be much of a car. But, ok. Um… I would probably repay some bills.

Kevin: Repay…some…bills… [as if he is writing it down] Ok… that is all.

Me: Awesome. That was pretty painless. When can I get my money?

Kevin: Ok, how would you like to receive your money? You have two options: Bank account or plastic card.

Me: Oh, I think I would rather you mail the plastic card.

Kevin: *crickets* Um…what?

Me: You are going to mail me some sort of debit card with the money on there, right?

Kevin: Oh, no ma’am. You misunderstood. We put it on your card.

Me: My card? Like a card I have? I don’t have a card. Did you mail it to me?

Kevin: No… um… you have plastic card?

Me: Oh, like a credit card. Oh! I see. Wow, I’m dense. Sorry. No, I don’t think I want to do that. Let’s do the bank account.

Kevin: Ok. What is the account number?

Me: How should I know?

Kevin: Your account number where we will put the money.

Me: How would I know the account number for the account you are opening for me to draw on?

Kevin: [who now thinks that this is possibly the stupidest woman he has tried to con all day] No, your account, ma’am.

Me: Oh, I’m being silly again. You want me to give you my bank account information so that you can wire the money into it, right?

Kevin: [with an audible sigh of relief] Yes, ma’am.

Me: Oh, well that information would be “No”.

Kevin: What?

Me: Wasn’t I clear? Hell no, then. How’s that?

Kevin: But without the information, we cannot give you the money.

Me: Kevin, sweetie, I believe you are going to give me $7193 about like I think I can go outside right now and fly. This may be news to you, but I don’t give money, social security numbers, or account information to displaced Nigerian princes either, sweat pea. However… I have managed to keep you on this nice phone long enough to pick up environmental information in the background and send the spoof number to the law enforcement registry to try and get a trace…

Kevin: Um… uh… ma’am. I don’t… [CLICK]

Yeah, and that was my entertainment for about 15-20 minutes of my lunch break. This is nothing new, it is just repackaged. What I do find intriguing is that these artists are learning and using new tricks and tales. I liked the U.S. Government Grant flourish. Everyone and their second cousin twice removed have seen the infomercials and ads for how to get unclaimed money from the government. According to all these TV hawkers, the federal government has billions of unclaimed funds that all you have to do is ask… How about not-so-much? While there are a number of programs with money that has been earmarked for programs or assistance, I know not one of them that you don’t at least have to fill out some pretty impressive officially bureaucratic forms or write and actual grant proposal and explanation of what you want to do with the funds to obtain. Which brings me to another new, very nice touch: Kevin asked the purpose to which I would put the funds. This is another confidence booster to the unsuspecting mark. Hearing something like that, you might actually think they were official. I mean, the government is always wanting to know what you are doing, right? Lastly, the genius touch: The amount of the payoff.

This is a tricky part. Cons and scams always rely upon the greed of the mark. They are offering something for nothing or something that is too good to be true. The old email scams had astronomical sums of money involved, and these days, most people are wise to that old story. So, this new twist, they offer a sum that is big enough to be tasty and tempting, but not so big that it is unrealistic. My guess is that it would work on a lot of people, especially with bailout programs and federal student loan forgiveness. It is a new shine on an old scheme.

If you get one of these calls, I would not expect that the number is actually the one to which you were connected. It is most likely spoofed, randomly mapped and projected to your caller ID. It is often a real number. My favorite is when they spoof my own bloody number. That is an absolute riot. I always want to answer those with “It’s done, but there is blood everywhere.” If it isn’t your own number, report it. There are sites where you can report scam number. Also, add your own numbers to the “Do Not Call” list. There is a government (real this time) site for it. I’ll list the sites below.

So, not all scams are at a distance. Believe it or not, there are still some old school charlatans working the old games. There are no new cons.

In my local area, there are a couple of groups doing the old pavement game. This is a pretty standard con, and usually focuses on homeowners of the older variety. A group of workmen approach a home and offer to pave the driveway. Usually, they offer this service for an extremely reasonable amount. They ask for a down payment, maybe $200 and set up to start the job. However, once they set out saw horses and maybe some safety equipment (goggles or hardhats), they notice it is close to lunch… or perhaps they say then need to go buy sealer. They depart, leaving the equipment to make it appear that they have every intention of returning. Voila! They disappear. They’re out maybe $15 worth of materials, and the homeowner is out $200. Occasionally, they actually do some work. Often, it is shoddy or much less than they offered (like oiling the drive, rather than paving it).

With some of the storms and weather we have experienced, another version of the above has cropped up. Again, this type tends to focus on older people in the community. And… as it happened, one of our law enforcement friends got to deal with this type today.

A mature lady answered her door to find a group of men there stating that her roof was damaged and that they were there to fix it. The lady being of more sound mind and will than they were expecting told them that they were not, but as she was outnumbered and a bit threatened, they went up the roof and started working. Our gal wasn’t to be bullied… So, she called 911. The officer responded to watch all of the men scoot up the ladder as fast as they could go.

Um… why would they do that? Wouldn’t they be trapped up there? Not the best exit strategy.

Correct, you are! However, that was not their intention. Apparently the “gentlemen” in question were in possession of what might be perceived, to the casual or not so casual observer, as illegal substances. Yep. They emptied their pockets on the roof. There were any number of interesting packets and items for “recreational” use, and there was about $40. The law enforcement officer asked the guys if all that stuff was theirs (we wouldn’t want them to lose any of their possessions, right?). Strangely enough, they all denied any connection to the items found on the roof. Mrs. Smith (pseudonym) should probably keep an eye on who is using her roof as party central. Anyhow, as no one claimed the substances or the or other items from the rooftop collection and since no damage had been done to the roof, no arrests were made. And Mrs. Smith got $40 out of it. It was on her roof after all.

It seems that every week (if not more frequently), I read or hear about some newly concocted method attempting to target unsuspecting people for money. Part of it is probably that we are in difficult times, and not everyone bears up under hardship to the credit of their character. However, another part of it is that the public, in general, is more vulnerable, precisely because we are in such difficult times. Everyone is struggling, financially, emotionally, and we’ve lost hope that good things will come. We are all vulnerable to the desire to have some of the burden lifted from our shoulders. Now, most, still retain enough cynicism and intellect to know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, but there is always that next wave of cons, scams, and schemes designed to overcome that natural cynicism and wariness. So, beware the predators out there. Be careful with your personal information, and say hello to “Kevin” for me.

Report The Call – http://www.reportthecall.com

Federal Trade Commission – http://consumer.ftc.gov

Do Not Call Registry – http://www.donotcall.gov

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