Deputy: Don't get scammed

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The Socorro County Sheriff's Department wants people to have a safe holiday season, and also not get ripped off.

"We generally see an uptick this time of year in attempts to separate people from their money — both legitimate and illegal," Deputy Ed Sweeney said during an interview Monday. "Of course, we're concerned with the illegal methods."

Sweeney said over the last few weeks, SCSD has received reports of scams about every other day.

He said just Monday morning, a man received a call from someone claiming to be his cousin. The call was from an Illinois area code. The "cousin" told the man he had been in a car wreck, and he needed $1,000. The man then phoned his real cousin, who said he was fine and had been in no wreck.

Sweeney said the sheriff's department has seen a real increase in the number of scams lately, and wants the public to be aware of scam artists.

"A lot of them prey on elderly people because no one is there to help them," Sweeney said, "but they'll prey on anybody."

Sweeney told about a woman who was trying to get a certain breed of dog. One seller had one for $500, which she paid. Then the person contacted her saying they needed another $200 for customs. The person continued contacting her with more excuses. By the time the woman reported the scam to the sheriff's department, the scammer had obtained $1,200 of her money.

Sweeney stressed people should not give personal information, banking information or credit card information over the phone or Internet unless the person knows for certain who is on the other end of the transaction.

He said one woman recently received a call from her "bank" telling her there was a problem with her account. The caller began asking for personal information, some of which would give a person access to her account. She started giving some information, then began suspecting a scam and hung up. She went to the bank and discovered her real bank had never called her. The bank issued her a new account number so the scammer would not be able to access her account.

Sweeney said a bank would never call and ask for personal information. He said if there is a problem with a person's account, a bank will most likely contact the person in writing through the mail.

He said there are many different kinds of scams about winning money, rich people trying to escape Nigeria or other stories where the scammer tells the victim they will deposit money in the victim's account or send a check, but some kind of processing fee is required. No legitimate prize award will ever require a fee up front.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true," Sweeney said.

The FBI website lists several advance fee schemes, including loans. Many loan schemes require a client to pay a "finder's fee" in advance, and victims often learn they are ineligible for a loan only after they have paid such fees.

Sweeney said the FBI and U.S. Secret Service investigate most scams because they are often initiated from outside the country. The sheriff's department can take a report, however, and put victims in contact with the appropriate agency.

It is best, however, not to be scammed in the first place, Sweeney said.

"People can get cleaned out and cleaned out fairly quickly," he said.

Sweeney encouraged people to report suspected scams even if they are not victimized. He said the sheriff's office will forward the information to the FBI or Secret Service. He noted people can also file a complaint online with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Sweeney strongly urged people not to take a phone call at face value. If it seems shady, then "please contact someone" in law enforcement.

Sweeney said there are dating scams, Craigslist scams, PayPal scams and more.

"You name it, they've got it … There's new ones every day," he said. "Just be aware and be alert. At Christmas, it can be particularly devastating."

More information about fraud schemes can be found at www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud.