Despite warnings, local residents still fall victim to Internet scams that result in the loss of thousands of dollars.
Union Police Detective Sgt. John Biser said three recent schemes have been reported that indicate predators still are taking advantage of people.
In one instance, a Union man was bilked out of $40,000 over about three years.
Biser explained that the man thought he was helping a woman in Africa pay her bills so she would eventually move to the United States to be his girlfriend.
The ruse was discovered when the Union man was asked to pick up an Apple iPad at the Union Wal-Mart that was purchased with a credit card number stolen from Louisiana. The owner of the card reported the purchase of the item to Union police.
“We are getting a half dozen of these calls each week,” Biser said.
He noted that many are inquiries into possible scams, and not from people who already have lost money.
Biser explained that scammers are looking to social networking sites to find victims and information about them.
“They are using Facebook to find out who their relatives are,” he said. “If you have a Facebook account and it isn’t secure, they can find out anything.”
In a second instance, a 78-year-old Union man was contacted by a suspect who said he was the man’s adult grandson.
The suspect said he was in Peru, given a plane ticket by friends, and had been involved in a car crash. He asked the Union man to wire him $2,400.
The same man contacted the victim two other times asking for more money, each totaling more than $2,000, Biser said.
The victim was asked not to contact his grandson’s wife so she wouldn’t worry.
It was after the victim was taken for more than $7,000 that he contacted his grandson’s wife who said her husband was at work, and not in Peru.
Biser said it is difficult to arrest anyone in these type of international crimes because the suspects can’t be located.
“Because it is an Internet-based phone system, there is no way of tracing the phone calls,” he said.
Biser added that the money transfer agencies in many countries, including Peru, are very lax and anyone can pick up wired funds.
“The money is not traceable,” he said.
Biser warns residents that funds sent via Western Union or MoneyGram can be received at any Western Union or MoneyGram office in the world.
In a third incident, a woman was sent a “secret shopper” letter and check. She was asked to cash the check and mail 95 percent of the funds overseas.
The bank where the woman cashed the check contacted her just before she wired the money.
“She was within a few minutes of having to take out a $2,500 loan,” Biser said.
Biser noted that the majority of the schemes rely on the victim to believe the suspects are operating from the United States. The suspect will use local telephone numbers and local addresses when contacting their potential targets.
In reality, the phone numbers are routed to a foreign country. The building addresses used are false or empty.
Biser said a resource for more information about scams and identity theft is www.IC3.gov, or the Union police station. Biser can be contacted at 636-583-3700.
Following are some more popular scams that have been reported in the area.
Lotteries — Victims are randomly contacted by e-mail and advised that they were selected as the winner of an international lottery. To claim your winnings an initial fee, ranging from $100 to $5,000, is requested to initiate the process. The requested fee is usually sent via MoneyGram or Western Union.
Nigerian Letter — This scam combines the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, e-mail, or fax is received by the potential victim. The communication from individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars, soliciting for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are out of the country.
Phishing/Spoofing — Phishing and spoofing are somewhat synonymous in that they refer to forged or faked electronic documents. Spoofing generally refers to the dissemination of an email which is forged to appear as though it was sent by someone other than the actual source.
The source will send an e-mail falsely claiming to be a legitimate business requesting credit card numbers, and bank account information after directing the user to visit a specified website. The website may appear to be very real but is only a gateway to funnel information to a third party.
Employment/Business Opportunity — Victims are contacted by bogus foreign-based companies that are recruiting citizens in the United States on several employment-search websites for work-at-home employment opportunities. These positions often involve reselling or reshipping merchandise to destinations outside the United States.
Almost always the merchandise is purchased with stolen credit cards and, if the victim who is doing the shipping, has to pay the bill.
Identity Theft — Identity theft occurs when someone appropriates the victim’s personal information without their knowledge to commit theft or fraud. Identity theft is a vehicle for perpetrating other types of fraud schemes.
Typically, the victim is led to believe they are divulging sensitive personal information to a legitimate business, sometimes as a response to an email solicitation to update billing or membership information, or as an application to a fraudulent Internet job posting.