ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County residents got a crash course in avoiding phone and Internet scams from a state Department of Justice educator Monday evening.
The Richmond County Democratic Women hosted Carol Young, an outreach specialist in Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, for an awareness workshop at the county judicial center. Young discussed the ways fraudsters try to scam money or personal information out of unsuspecting victims.
“It’s about your money, your time and your peace of mind,” said Young. “Scams can take place in the short term and the long term. Scam artists will want to become your best friend, then use fear tactics if you try to distance yourself.”
Young used the term “reloading” to describe a situation where the same person gets scammed over and over.
“Once a scammer knows he or she can get your information once, then they’ll keep doing it again and again,” she said.
According to Young, scams can also be seasonal. Tax scams pop up in the winter and early spring, spring is when home repair and door-to-door scams primarily happen and late summer and fall is typically when charity scams happen. Young said residents should research a charity to ensure it’s a legitimate nonprofit before making a donation.
Telemarketing fraud represents 36 percent of all scams, said Young, and in some extreme cases, they’ve caused people to lose more than $1 million. Mos victims lose between $5,000 and $15,000, she said.
“Hang up the phone,” when pushy telemarketers call, Young advised. “Don’t engage them, don’t try to outsmart them and don’t call back if they leave a message. There may be a large surcharge for calling back.”
Another over-the-phone scam Young talked about is generally called the “grandchild-in-trouble scam.” With social media prevalent among young people, scammers will troll Facebook and similar sites looking for younger people on vacation or spring break. Calls will usually come late in the evening or in the middle of the night with a voice saying, “I need help. Send me $500.”
When the person receiving the call asks who is calling, the person on the other line will say, “It’s your favorite grandson or granddaughter,” trying to get a name. With voice-spoofing software available to scammers, the voice may even sound like your grandson or granddaughter.
“This happens all the time,” said Young.
With more people meeting each other for friendship and dating on the Internet, the “sweetheart scam” is a many-month process in which one meets another person online and befriends him or her. Young says it’s OK to meet people online, but she advises folks to be wary if they ask for money for any reason.
“When they want money, that should raise a red flag. End that relationship,” said Young.
Young also says to watch out for door-to-door scams, which often include solicitors claiming to represent religious groups or construction companies. Using local businesses that have a reputation in the community is the best way to avoid home repair scams, said Young.
“If the consumer protection division could eliminate door-to-door scams, that would eliminate 50 percent of scams,” Young said.
Some recommendations from Young include removing anything from your wallet that includes a Social Security number on it, and don’t keep anything with a personal identification number.
“Make copies of everything in the wallet so in case it’s stolen or lost, you can call credit card companies or banks and report it,” Young urged those in attendance.
Other suggestions from Young were to check credit scores every four months, take outgoing bills containing checks directly to the post office instead of putting them in the mailbox and shredding documents with personal information before throwing them in the trash.
Young also advises residents to register their names and phone numbers with the national Do-Not Call Registry. To sign up for the registry, call toll-free at 888-382-1222 to add phone numbers or join by email at www.donotcall.gov.
“Just remember this,” she said, “and it’s an old saying, but it works. If it’s too good to be true, it is.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-997-3111, ext. 18.