Chief Roche on scams: Delete, hang up!
They’re sending emails, calling on the phone, attaching spy devices to card swipe machines. They’re scam artists, and they want to get into people’s bank accounts.
“Question, question, question,” police Chief John Roche said. “It’s your information. Hold it dear and don’t give it out.”
Roche spoke about scams — so common today on both the Internet and the telephone — to about 30 senior citizens at Founders Hall Jan. 27.
“The more you do on your cell phone, the more you do on your computer — you need to be careful,” Roche said. “The more you open up on the Internet, yes, the more you’re vulnerable.”
People sucked in by scammers with their clever come-ons can lose money — in large amounts, sometimes.
“We’ve had people, upwards of $5,000,” the chief said.
With so many emails coming in from all over, about all kinds of things, people can give scammers entry into their computers and personal information simply by opening an interesting looking email. Chief Roche offered a simple approach to avoiding scammers.
“If it doesn’t look familiar, delete it,” he said.
People with questions about suspicious computer queries, or phone calls, shouldn’t hesitate to ask the RIdgefield police for help or advice. “203-438-6531,” Roche said. “Call us up — 2:30 in the morning, you want to talk to a cop, we’re there.”
What does someone do who has been victimized by scammers and had his or her identity stolen? Information is available from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has a website called IdentityTheft.gov, Roche said.
He showed the seniors a nearly 50-page booklet from the Federal Trade Commission called Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen, and also a single-sheet FTC handout listing immediate steps to take.
“Is someone using your personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund? IdentityTheft.gov can walk you through each step of the recovery process.”
The handout outlined four steps identity theft victims should take, and offered details on pursuing each one:
“What to do right away. Step 1: Call the companies where you know fraud occurred. Call the fraud department. Explain that someone stole your identity. Ask them to close or freeze the accounts. Then no one can add new charges unless you agree. Change logins, passwords and PINS for your accounts.
“Step 2: Place a fraud alert and get your credit report.
“Step 3: Report identity theft to the FTC.
“Step 4: File a report with your local police department.”
Both the handout and the 48-page booklet from the Federal Trade Commission are available at Ridgefield police headquarters, Roche said.
Internet scammers go “phishing” for people who’ll open unsolicited emails, and once the email is opened they can hack into the victim’s computer and get information they can use in identity theft.
Be careful, he said. It happened to the Democratic National Committee during a presidential election, and it can happen to everyday citizens.
Scammers cover their tracks, running their operations “through 15, 20 computers” in a row so bogus emails are hard to trace.
And the phishers are patient.
“They’ll send out a million emails a day” to get “five, 10 responses,” Roche said, and if one of those leads to a theft of $5,000 or $10,000 — well, that’s a nice payoff for a day’s work.
The trick is to get someone to open the unsolicited emails. They use things like frightening subject lines: “‘Warning! Warning! Warning!’ — that’s just a gimmick,” Roche said.
They’ll pose as the IRS, get information, then file a fake tax return in the victim’s name and keep the money.
It’s big business.
“Down in Florida, they had groups of guys renting out strip malls, filling them with tables and having kids on their laptops” sending out the bogus emails, Roche said.
Another Internet scam is to get people to reveal information by leading to them to believe they’re being hired to go shopping and report back on their experiences at various businesses.
“‘Secret shopper,’ it’s called. It’s another thing they use,” Roche said.
Scammers may use email in creative ways, but they’ haven’t stopped using the telephone.
Calls soliciting donations can come from legitimate charities, or professional solicitors representing legitimate organizations. But they can also come from scammers. The safest choice is simply to not respond to telephone solicitors of any kind.
“Anybody soliciting you for money,” the chief said, hang up and don’t get involved — a less drastic tactic with callers soliciting donations is to say you don’t donate to any charities over the phone, and ask to be mailed information about the cause in question.
“If it’s a worthwhile cause: ‘Send me something in the mail,’ ” Chief Roche suggested.
Scammers, whether on the phone or the Internet, are resourceful in devising approaches people will find it hard to resist.
“ ‘Lottery advance payments’ — you get those?” Chief Roche asked. “You won the lottery in Canada? It’s a scam…”
Virtually any “wire money” request is a scam, the chief said.
“They’ll ask you to go to Walgreens and get prepaid gift cards,” he said.
He mimicked the come-on of one of the more notorious phone scams targeting older people:
“Hi grandma. Hi, grandpa. I’m in jail…”
Chief Roche said he comes from a family of police officers — his father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, all police officers.
“None of us has ever done this, said ‘Call you grandma, call your grandpa, they need to wire money…’ ” Chief Roche told the Founders Hall crowd.
Sometimes people call posing as kidnappers, or loved ones who are hostages.
It’s best to get off the phone and turn the information over to the police.
“Call headquarters right away,” Chief Roche said.
Another common scam lately involves people saying they need to correct some problem with the victim’s computer — they’ll pose as the “maintenance department” from Google, Microsoft or some well known tech company, and say they need to fix some problem that’s been found, start probing for information that can be used for identity theft and go a shopping spree.
Solicitations that seek personal information — social security numbers, for instance — should be ignored. Delete them, or hang up, delete, the chief said.
“Nobody should ask you for that information online. No one should be asking you for that information on the phone.”
The chief suggested another way to deal with questionable callers.
“Ask the person on the other end: ‘Give me your phone number and I’ll call you back…’ If they say ‘no’ — hang up on them,” he said.
High tech tricks
Scammers come up with all kinds of ways to get people’s information, including high tech methods.
There are skimming devices they attach to ATM machines, which pick up bank account information when a person swipes their card, Chief Roche said.
A man in the audience said he’d heard about scammers in parking lots using a device that can electronically capture information when people use electronic key fobs to lock and unlock their cars.
“If you lock it manually, by pressing the button, you’re not handing anyone that information,” Chief Roche said.
The devious creativity of scammers produces an endless stream of new schemes to watch out for.
“You turn the page, the next day, there’s a new scam,” Chief Roche said.
People have to constantly be on guard.
“These individuals have one goal and one goal only in mind,” Chief Roche said, “They want your money.”