By Sue Moore
More than $20 million has been stolen from local people who were duped by fraud and scams in Kalamazoo County since June 2017, according to Lt. Jeff Baker of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bureau.
And perhaps quite a bit more. The number is just the total of thefts reported to police.
“The scammers and fraudsters concentrate on the elderly because they are vulnerable, have more money stashed away in retirement savings accounts and are usually more trusting,” said Lt. Baker. He was at the Schoolcraft library recently at the request of the Presbyterian Church, speaking to a group of about 20 seniors.
Lt. Baker believes that education is the best way to combat fraud and scams, which is why he goes out on speaking tours as part of his work. He began the speaking engagements when he was promoted to lieutenant in November, 2016 and examined the many complaints his department deals with each year.
“Scammers want your money or information that will get to your money,” Baker told the group in Schoolcraft. “If they get one person to bite out of hundreds of letters or emails sent out, it’s a good payday. The general tipoff is when the offer is too good to be true. The person calling you might use phrases such as hurry, the offer is good today only, then they want you to pay something for shipping, handling, to receive the product.”
He cited a Publishers Clearing House scam that tells a person they won the big prize. The caller will say taxes need to be prepaid. The “winner” goes to the bank to send money straight to the scammer.
The grandson-in-jail plea for bail money seems like a call for help that a caring grandparent surely will act upon. Not so fast, Baker warns. Checking with the parents first seems obvious. But people right here in Kalamazoo County fell for that one to the tune of $63,264 since June 2017. The average age of the victim is 83 years old.
An audience member described a scam he was subjected to recently when someone stole his PayPal account and charged a $360 pair of Air Jordans, having them delivered to an address in Detroit. Baker said it could have been an abandoned house with someone waiting within sight for the delivery to be thrown up on the porch.
Spoofing of phone numbers when the call looks like it’s coming from someone you know is hard to combat, Baker said. You can block the caller but that doesn’t solve the problem. You can get on the national do-not-call list but spoofers are getting really good at disguising where the call is coming from. The only correct action: Don’t answer the call and have the person leave a message.
Much of the time, the caller will want you to run to Walmart or Meijer and buy a series of gift cards, scratch it off to get to the hidden numbers and read them to the caller. It’s always with the admonition to “hurry and don’t tell anybody” while you are doing this trip to the store.
Employment scams are prevalent and have bilked county residents out of a reported $40,000 plus in the last two and a half years, he said.
IRS threats have reaped a reported total of $39,000. He cautions that the IRS will never demand immediate payment, call about taxes owed without first sending you a bill, require you to use a specific payment method, ask for credit card numbers over the phone or threaten to bring local police to have you arrested.
Computer repair is another tactic and a common scheme right now. This has garnered a reported $138,000 in payment for supposed fixit plans for computers in Kalamazoo County. Lt. Baker showed a document from the “National Virus Research Center” that made the audience chuckle because it had so many grammatical errors in it. Scammers will ask for your password so they can access your computer to fix it for you. That’s all they need to cause real damage.
Dating sites are the saddest cases he deals with. “Everyone needs someone. People get hooked, send money and then discover it’s a scam. It’s the most under-reported scam we deal with,” Baker says.
Then there are frauds perpetrated by itinerant people who come to your door, saying they are in the neighborhood and have some extra asphalt or whatever repair work they are doing. “There is a large clan out of Iowa who come around and stay in local hotels while they are going door to door.”
He cautions his audience not to react to high pressure tactics on anything. It has cost a whopping total of $21.5 million he estimates, since he started to keep track of fraud and scams in Kalamazoo County in June of 2017.
A group, organization, or business interested in hosting Lt. Baker’s presentation, can reach him at 269-383-8725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.