Local law enforcement are urging the public to be “suspicious and cautious” of several different scams that both the Starkville Police Department and the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office have had an increased number of reports for.
Lt. Brett Watson of the OCSO and Detective Scotty Carrithers of the SPD said that the majority of these scams are either taking place online, through text messages, through a phone call or a combination of the three. According to Watson, these cases can be tough to investigate because little evidence is left behind, and because several of the cases appear to originate in other countries.
“These types of long distance, Internet, text-based scams are some of the most difficult to work, some of the most time consuming, and I think in those cases the stumbling blocks are a lot higher than others,” he said.
Carrithers said the SPD has been having reports lately of individuals receiving phone calls from people claiming to be lawyers telling the individual they owe a certain company money, and requesting that they money gram or Western Union the amount owed. If the individual does not comply the so-called lawyer’s request, they threaten to have a local law enforcement come arrest the individual.
“It’s always a really odd amount. It’s not like an even $500 or $600,” Carrithers said. “I guess that typically makes it seem more realistic.”
He said most of these calls have been originating from New York and Colorado. Because they are from within the United States, the chances of law enforcement being able to track down the calls is much higher than with ones originating outside the U.S. simply due to jurisdiction.
Watson said he has been dealing with some of those phone scams allegedly originating internationally. The scammer, claiming to be someone the victim knows, will tell the victim that they are in jail in a foreign country and need money wired to the embassy in order to pay for a lawyer. They will then put another party on the phone posing as embassy personnel and tell the victim where to wire the money.
“It sounds bizarre. Most people know where their family members and friends are, but they are preying on those who don’t have constant contact with those people,” Watson said. “We have had that happen several times to the tune of thousands of dollars.”
He said this was the first time he had dealt with this kind of scam, but can see, just like other phone scams, how the success lies in the number of attempts.
“Think about it, a good scam is built on a premise throwing a bunch of hooks in the water and you only have to hit one or two,” Watson said. “If you make a thousand phone calls a month and you just get one person to send you four or five thousand dollars to get their loved one out of jail in a foreign country, you have already made more money than most people will bring in a month. Tax free.”
Both officers cited reports of cases involving vehicle listings on Craigslist. Watson said many of the scam artists listing these cars go to great lengths to make sales look valid, even offering to do the transaction through PayPal or Google Checkout.
“They will ask the victim for their email information and they will say we are going to do this through Google Checkout and someone will contact you shortly to get contact information, but of course who contacts them is not Google or PayPal. It is a co-conspirator in the crime,” he said. “They will ask them to go ahead and Western Union the money, and through a fake Google Checkout or PayPal representative, will send the victim an invoice and all that stuff back by email. But, of course, the vehicle never shows up.”
The whole transaction can appear legitimate, according to Watson, but when a seller asks to finish a sale outside of a PayPal or Google Checkout prior the delivery of the product, it is probably a scam. He said if the product being sold looks too good to be true, it likely is.
“They are making it look good. In two instances we have had the supposed seller posing as military servicemen who are either leaving the country being deployed and need a quick sell or who are being transferred to another base and needing a quick sale,” Watson said.
The sites that many of the online scams are taking place on are reputable sites where safe transactions occur on a daily basis, and many have guidelines for avoiding scams and fraud. Craigslist’s guide says the easiest way to avoid 99 percent of all scams is to deal with local people that are willing to meet in person. Watson said reviewing these guidelines can save individuals time and money.
“Educate yourself on what their guidelines are if you are going to do transactions on the Internet,” he said. “If you have a question about a suspicious transaction, contact your local law enforcement and ask them if they have had similar events reported.”
Carrithers and the SPD have also had issues with vehicles on Craigslist, but he said the most common one being reported now is a scam involving text messages and calls from an individual or group posing as BancorpSouth employees.
The texts have come from firstname.lastname@example.org and usually have the words, “BancorpSouth.Call:973 939 2533” with the number varying.
Carrithers, who has actually received a number of these texts himself, said when an individual calls the number listed, they are asked for their account number and other personal information.
“If you get a message asking you to call a certain number, then that number is immediately requesting personal information, my suggestion would be to hang up, and you go find the number for that business or organization in the phone book or online,” he said.
Both officers stressed the importance of being suspicious when dealing with money or personal information through digital means, and said they would much rather deal with phone calls all day concerning questions about possible scams than to see a member of the public be swindled.
“We’d rather talk to them ahead of time than to talk to them afterwards,” said Watson. “You are really behind the eight ball as far as trying to do any investigation after the fact. It is much easier to prevent it than it is to solve it.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.