Law enforcement officials advise residents to slow down and verify

by Chris Studor

 When it comes to pinpointing scammers, Brennen Long, a former FBI agent and Hinckley resident, says he advises everyone to “slow down and verify.”

Long, who was among four law enforcement officials to offer the community a free seminar on avoiding scammers 25, shared several useful tips residents can use to avoid being scammed out of money in their bank accounts.

Hinckley Police Chief David Centner said he advised everyone to maintain a high level of caution when confronted with calls or emails asking for money. In addition to taking Long’s advice to slow down and verify, he told residents is also good to remember not to talk to strangers.

“When a scammer calls, they are relying on their contact to be excited, nervous and scared,” said Centner. “Remember, there is never a need to act immediately.”

Centner outlined one of the most common scams known in police circles as the grandparents scam. He said the scammer calls pretending to be someone’s grandchild, saying they are in trouble and often saying they have caused an accident and need bail money. The grandparents is asked to purchase gift cards and then call back and read code numbers over the phone.

This allows the scammer to cash the gift cards, which means the victim’s money is gone, Centner said. Sometimes the scammer will ask for money, which the scammer instructs will be picked up by a courier.

“If you get a call like this, don’t do what the scammer is asking you to,” Centner said, noting that law enforcement officials would never ask for gift cards. “If someone is arrested, you can’t bail them out with gift cards or through money sent by a courier. Only the court system sets up bail. If you receive this kind of call, call the police, call your children to verify that they really are in trouble, and tell a friend or neighbor you trust that may be able to help you.”

Long also schooled residents on a new technique scammers are using via artificial intelligence.

“Scammers scroll Face book and other social media sites and go as far as recording the voice of a child who may have made a short video for his friends,” said Long. “Through artificial intelligence, they can duplicate a child’s voice. Then, when making a scam call, [this] increases the likelihood that the person will recognize the voice and think it is a legitimate call.”

Hinckley Police Detective Jeff Kinney also cautioned that a frequent scam circulating throughout the community is the utility company scam, as part of which the caller informs the victim that they have a late payment and their utility service will be cut off unless payment is made immediately with a gift card purchased from a local retailer.  

Similar scams, Kinney said, consist of callers identifying themselves as agents from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury or  the Justice Department.

“Government agencies will never advise a citizen to withdraw money from their bank account and allow a courier to pick it up for safe keeping to be returned later,” said Kinney, noting that the scammers can use caller ID to make it look as if the call is originating Washington, D.C.

Centner advises those receiving such calls to ask for a name and phone number to call back, noting that in most circumstances, scammers will likely hang up.

He said for those who have questions on the call’s validity, he encourages those on the receiving end to look up the official phone number of the agency, such as the IRS, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. Most likely, he said, the recipients will find that the number of the scam caller doesn’t match the phone number of the official site – hence a scam call.

Jon Jaroska, owner of ITDoneForYou in Medina, addressed multiple phishing schemes. As the author of  “The Business Owner’s Complete Guide to Phishing,” he describes phishing as cyber crimes in which cyber criminals bait unsuspecting victims into ‘biting’ just like you would lure a fish to a hook.

This virtual bait, Jaroska said, usually comes in the form of an email and when the victim gets hooked, their device and potentially their whole network can become infected with malware.  The victim is enticed into giving away login credentials, which can lead to data theft and even financial theft.

Jaroska said every one in 99 emails is a phishing attack and 25% of these slip through security filters in victims’ inboxes, with 60% of phishing attacks resulting in lost data.

Jaroska said a phishing email appears as if it has been sent from a legitimate sender, even pretending to be from a popular company, such as Amazon or PayPal. It may ask you to click on a link or take you to a fake page pretending to be a service you use. Unfortunately, he said, when users log in, they provide their login credentials to the criminals.

Among the clues to phishing schemes are logos that look similar to the real thing but are slightly off, or emails that contain spelling and grammar errors, or even have incorrect website addresses.

Speaker Brian McDonough, assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and elder justice coordinator for the state of Ohio, addressed wire fraud, mail fraud securities fraud and more.

“Sadly, with the development of technology and scams people must be ever vigilant,” said McDonough. “Recently a team of two men were able to cheat elders out of $383,000 in just five weeks using the grandparent scam. Nothing comes free and if it sounds too good to be true it is. We need to be watchful of our family members, particular the older members of families.”

McDonough said he advised people not to answer robocalls because it lets the caller know there is a live person at that number, which scammers will then distribute to others.

“I also advise people not to put check payments in their mailbox with the flag up on their mailbox because to a thief that means there may be a check in the mail,” he said. “Once the check is stolen, the check is “washed” and made out to a new person with for a large amount. It will be weeks before a person discovers this.”

All speakers told those in attendance that if they suspect fraud, they should immediately report it to local law enforcement or (Internet fraud) or The government will take the information and hand it over to field agents who work to resolve the issue. ∞