Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles about the resurfacing of scams seeking personal information.
If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. That’s the rule of thumb the average person should invoke when approached with a pitch for award of (for example) $90,000 in return for sending in personal information and money to whomever has made the pitch.
“There are multiple scams going around,” said Paragould Police Patrol Capt. Brent McCain, “and what happens is that scammers will work the particular scam until they aren’t getting anything more from it, and then they’ll change it up a bit – or even go with a new one.”
Many scams appear on social media like Facebook, with the initial pitch coming immediately after acceptance by the potential victim of a friend request from the scammer. Actual scam messages on Facebook Messenger include:
“I was just wondering if you heard anything about PCH the (PUBLISH CLEARING HOUSE) program going on around. Did you heard from them??”
“Good to hear back from you, I want to share with you and I haven’t know if you have heard about the Ggf” [“Ggf” supposedly refers to the Global Greengrants Fund, a legitimate organization like Publishers Clearing House]
“Great and glad to hear from you, oh did you get your Money from the social assistance reform act?”
“It is the global financial organization aid I got $30,000 cash from them and i saw your name on their winners list did you get yours ?”
“Hello how are you doing I need to tell you something good now because am really so exited now”
And so on. Common threads among such scammers are poor spelling, grammar, punctuation, word and/or case usage.
Some scammers, masquerading as federal government representatives claiming to administer a grant program, may ask for a copy of both sides of the potential victim’s driver’s license as well as his or her social security number. “And nobody that’s reputable, either a company or a government entity, is going to contact you on Facebook,” McCain said. “They may announce something on social media, but they’re going to send you a certified letter that you’ll have to sign for – you don’t have to pay anything to get it.”
In any case, McCain said, anyone who instructs the “winner” or “grantee” to send a fee to claim a prize, grant, etc. is a scammer. “No government-sponsored funding or grants is going to require a fee for you to pay,” he said. “If you have to pay money to get money, then it’s a scam. And if you’ve legitimately won something, there will be an official route to take.”
In one case, an individual in another state, having already sent in copies of both sides of her driver’s license and Social Security number as requested by the scammer in order to receive a $90,000 federal grant, was then instructed to buy two $500 gift cards, get a $2,000 money order and $4,000 in cash to mail to different addresses. “And don’t tell the Post office it’s cash,” the scammer reportedly told the victim, “because they don’t like for people to send cash through the mail.” In return, she was told, she would receive her federal grant check by a specified time on a specified date.
Having done so (and sent off a total of $7,000), she did not receive the check. Instead, she was told by the scammer, she needed to send a $5,000 “delivery fee.”
McCain noted the people most likely to be taken in by such scams are those who may face financial difficulties. “They prey on people who are having hard times,” he said, “who may need that next little bump to get them through the next year – maybe something bad happened to them, like an unexpected medical bill.”
Other likely scam targets, McCain said, are older people and those living on fixed incomes.
“These people are feeding that false dream,” he said, “that they’re going to get rich quick. And that’s what they’re preying on – that dream. It’s sad.”