ROCKINGHAM — An old expression has taken on new meaning in the age of lottery scams: You can’t win if you don’t play.
Phone, mail and door-to-door scams targeting elderly residents are making the rounds in Richmond County, and Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. is warning folks of all ages not to fall prey to the fraudsters.
“Do not accept a phone call talking about winning the lottery when you know you haven’t entered a lottery,” Clemmons said on Friday, later adding, “You’ve got to pay money to get money? No. If I won, bring it to me.”
Lottery scams in which a person is told her or she needs to send an advance payment to collect winnings are routinely reported throughout North Carolina. Scammers sometimes mail what appears to be a genuine check and instruct residents to deposit it and return a portion of the winnings to the sender for processing.
“If the banks do cash it, when they find out the error, they’re going to come back to those individuals for that money,” Clemmons said.
Banks may post funds from a fraudulent check to a customer’s account before catching the error and rescinding the deposit. Scam victims often don’t learn of the discrepancy until days after they’ve sent the requested payment.
Clemmons said the sheriff’s office has no recent reports of residents losing money to check scams, but they remain a threat.
“There have been instances in the past that people have come in with those bad checks, and some of them have been unlucky enough to cash them,” Clemmons said.
Con artists have cost some county residents much of their life savings.
“We have had people in the past in Richmond County who have been scammed of more than $100,000,” Clemmons said.
Phone scammers may say they’re calling from a government agency, bank or credit card company, but will ask victims to provide sensitive personal information that a legitimate company would already have on file. Clemmons said residents shouldn’t give out any information when asked by someone who phones them.
“If these phone calls are being received, do not give them your name or information,” he said. “Most definitely, do not give your Social Security number to anyone.”
Fraudsters are persistent, Clemmons notes, and will often try to scare their victims into staying on the line.
“If these seniors receive these phone calls, and some of them start by saying, ‘Don’t hang up,’ well, my advice is to hang up immediately,” the sheriff said.
Richmond County residents targeted in phone, mail or door-to-door scams can report them to the sheriff’s office. Clemmons said those with caller ID should provide deputies with the phone number where the suspicious calls came from whenever possible.
When scams originate outside Richmond County, deputies forward the information to the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, Clemmons said. Residents can contact the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-877-566-7226.
The sheriff is also encouraging residents to guard themselves against pickpockets and purse-snatchers who often approach customers entering or leaving stores. Clemmons suggests leaving pocketbooks out of plain sight in locked cars and carrying only cash or a credit or debit card into the store.
“There’s no need to carry your pocketbook with all your ID,” Clemmons said, going on to explain that thieves can run away with not only money, but cards containing personal information that can be used to steal a person’s identity. “If you can, shop with family members or friends. Be mindful of your surroundings.”
Clemmons also urges residents to be on the lookout for credit report and credit-monitoring services that promise free credit information but have hidden fees.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, to provide one free consumer credit report each year. The only website to obtain these free reports is www.annualcreditreport.com, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Other websites that advertise free credit reports are operated by private businesses and often try to sell add-on services like Beacon scores, which are not included in the free annual reports, or monthly credit monitoring.
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @RCDailyJournal.