Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 5:09 am | Fair 54º


Santa Barbara Police Warn Scam Artists Are Setting a Variety of Hooks

Local victims fall prey to con jobs that include money orders, online sales, seniors and even law enforcement

The number of South Coast residents taken in by scams is on the rise, and Santa Barbara police want to remind people not to send personal information or wire money to strangers.

Would-be victims are approached over the Internet, by telephone or through newspaper classified advertisements, and those who fall for the con jobs often end up losing thousands of dollars.

The most common scam involves fraudulent money orders, said police Sgt. Dan McGrew of SBPD’s property crimes division. The con’s mark will be sent a money order with instructions to deposit it and forward the money via Western Union or a similar money-transfer service, he said.

The orders look legitimate and are often cashed, McGrew said, but by the time banks determine they’re fraudulent, the money has been sent and it’s the money order recipient who is on the hook with the bank.

This happens a lot when a person is selling something online, McGrew said. As an example, he said a seller will make a $90 sale online but receive a check for $900 “by mistake” and be asked to deposit the money and send perhaps $650 of it via wire transfer to the buyer, keeping the rest as a thank you.

“If it seems too good to be true, it is,” he said.

Even with warnings on sites like Craigslist, however, this still happens regularly, McGrew said.

Some classified job ads solicit résumés and applications to hunt for personal information like Social Security numbers.

McGrew said the scam that “just breaks my heart” is one that preys on the elderly. Scammers gain access to certain financial background documents that include family members and they then call people pretending to be a grandchild.

The “grandson” says he’s going on vacation to Mexico, McGrew said. A few days later, he calls back to say he has been arrested and desperately needs money for bail and to get back home. Naturally, he needs it sent via Western Union and doesn’t want his parents or any other family members to know.

“We’re getting killed locally,” with 10 cases reported in the last four months, he said.

McGrew guessed there are dozens more victims, but fraud is often under-reported because of embarrassment.

Anyone receiving such a call should get others involved and call family members to confirm, he added. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has issued similar warnings.

People also should ignore calls soliciting money supposedly on behalf of a law enforcement agency, McGrew said. A common tactic, he explained, is a very threatening, angry caller pretending to be from the Drug Enforcement Administration or a local police department and threatening to search and/or arrest the person unless money is paid immediately.

“We want to remind people that doesn’t happen from a legitimate agency,” he said.

Scammers find out just enough about the person to make what sound like credible threats, then request money to be sent to what they say is Jamaica’s attorney general’s office via Western Union, McGrew said.

One man ordered medications online and the “DEA” called to say it was illegal. McGrew said the man was told that unless he wanted a search warrant served at his house, he had better pay the fine immediately.

Santa Barbara police ask that residents report scams — either attempted or successful — to the department’s property crimes division by calling 805.897.2300. The Sheriff’s Department can be reached at 805.681.4100.

Internet crime complaints should be directed to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. When money is sent out of the United States, the police work with the Secret Service.

Common Sense Tips for Buying and Selling Online

» Deal locally and face-to-face

» Never wire funds via Western Union or MoneyGram

» Fake money orders or cashier’s checks are common and banks will cash them then hold you responsible when the fake is discovered

» Never give out financial information

» Don’t rent housing or purchase expensive items without seeing them in person

» Don’t submit information for a credit or background check until you have met the person face-to-face

— Source: Craigslist

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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