If Something Doesn’t Seem Right …

If Something Doesn’t Seem Right …

How people may protect themselves from financial crimes.

 During the monthly meetings of the Sully District Police Station’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), the guest speakers are often police officers who tell local residents about their jobs. Some also give information about how best to avoid becoming a victim of a crime.

Major Crimes Detective Satoria Reynolds works in the Financial Crimes Section. And at a recent CAC meeting, she discussed various scams and frauds being perpetrated and offered advice to people on how to protect themselves.

Starting with scams considered larceny by false pretense, she said they’re accomplished by tricking and deceiving people. “Criminals convince you to pay them money – via gift cards, money orders, bank deposits and wire transfers – using false claims and deception,” said Reynolds. “They contact you by phone, computer, email and mail.”

She said the elderly can be easy targets because they are more likely to enjoy talking on the phone and less likely to be familiar with technology. However, she added, “I’ve dealt with tons of people who are extremely educated – and may even suspect they’re being scammed – but still allowed a stranger remote access to their computers. The scammer tells them something’s wrong with their connection or their computer has a virus, and they believe it. Or something pops up on your computer screen saying, ‘You have a virus; call this number.’”

Reynolds said spoofing “makes it appear that someone else is calling you. And if you get suspicious, they’ll say, ‘I’m a Christian; I’d never do something like that.’ Or, ‘I made a mistake and I’m afraid my boss will fire me if you don’t do this.’ They may even make it appear like they’ve deposited money in your bank account, but they haven’t.”

There are many common scams. For example, said Reynolds, “You’ll get a notice by email or regular mail saying you owe money to the IRS. But you’ll have to pay with green dot cards. They’ll have you take photos of the cards to prove you bought them – and once they have the numbers, that’s all they need.”

People are also fooled by a caller saying their grandchild, niece, nephew, etc., is injured, kidnapped or in trouble and you have to send money. Or someone will call with a phone number that looks legitimate and say they’re from the Sheriff’s Office. In these cases, said Reynolds, “They’ll say you owe money, or they have a warrant for your arrest, but you can settle it by sending them the payment.”

Romance scams can originate from dating sites, online purchases or someone claiming to want to be Facebook friends. But, warned Reynolds, “They establish relationships over weeks, months or even years. And once they feel comfortable, they’ll say, ‘I’m in trouble and need you to send me money.’”

Or people will think they’re buying a pet from someone and make a down payment, but the pet never arrives. In another scam, said Reynolds, “The caller will say, ‘You won the lottery, but you need to pay taxes or fees on it, in advance, before the money can be released to you.’”

In other scams, criminals divert money from other people’s unemployment checks or tax refunds into their own bank accounts. Or, Reynolds said, “People will create ads about a real home for sale – and get the money for it – but it’s someone else’s house they sold, not theirs.”

Credit-card skimming is also a huge problem. It can happen at places such as gas pumps, ATMs, restaurants and grocery stores. “With Bluetooth, criminals can access people’s credit-card information from afar, without being seen,” said the detective. She then showed slides of skimmer devices, pinhole cameras in them and overlays that can be placed on credit-card readers.

When the victim inserts the credit card into, e.g., an ATM, the magnetic-stripe information is skimmed, while a hidden camera records the PIN number. This information is then transferred to new, counterfeit credit cards so criminals can either sell them online or use that PIN number to make withdrawals for themselves.

And in the case of credit-card fraud, said Reynolds, “Once they have your credit-card numbers, they can use them without having the physical card. Criminals frequently purchase gift cards, money orders or electronics that can be resold.”

She also discussed check fraud, which involves stealing checks from the mail, vehicles or homes. Criminals then either alter the checks or use the victim’s name, plus his or her account and routing numbers, to create fake checks.

“With check washing, criminals use a solvent to erase the check’s details to allow them to be rewritten, usually to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account,” said Reynolds. “But if people use a gel pen, instead of a regular pen, the ink is harder to wash off.”

She also advised people to use online banking; instead of mailing checks from home, destroy their canceled checks and review their bank statements for any suspicious checks they don’t recognize. Reynolds noted, as well, that sometimes, “Criminals will have other people deposit the [fraudulent] check in someone else’s bank account, making it difficult for police to know which person did which part of the crime.”

Regarding identity theft, she said people should be wary of strangers asking them to verify their personal information. “Then they’ll have it to use for their own financial gain,” said Reynolds. Most valuable to criminals are the victim’s name, Social Security number, birthdate, address, driver’s license number, bank-account numbers or cards, passwords, phone numbers and biometric data, such as fingerprints.

Reynolds said people can tell if they’re victims by:

* Looking for unexplained charges, withdrawals or checks on their bank statements:

* Failing to receive bills/statements; mail may have been stolen or diverted by a fraudulent change of address;

* Receiving credit cards not applied for;

* Having a credit card denied; and/or

* Receiving bills or calls from debt collectors about things they didn’t purchase.

In summary, said Reynolds, “Trust your instincts; if something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not. You can Google ‘scams related to so-and-so company’ before sending them money. Pull on [credit-card readers] to see if a skimmer pops off, and review your credit history to make sure others haven’t opened up accounts in your name.”

In Fairfax County, she said, financial-crime victims may file their police reports online at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/howdoi/financialcrimes. And, she added, “We can give you a verification letter proving you’re a victim and weren’t part of the fraud.”