2017-03-16 / Community
Detective outlines popular scams
Message is clear: ‘Don’t be fooled’
Teaching the public about the latest and greatest con jobs is a favorite pastime of Ventura County Sheriff’s Detective Tim Lohman, who knows the best way to avoid falling prey to scammers is to learn the tricks of their trade.
“I figure the only way to battle this is public education,” Lohman said after an appearance last week at the Thousand Oaks University Village retirement community.
In his two-plus years investigating cases of fraud for the Thousand Oaks Police Department, Lohman has seen all kinds of cons. The worst involved a person losing $212,000 in a single scam.
To help ensure others don’t fall victim to sinister schemes, he’s touring the county giving talks— mostly to seniors—about the most prevalent scams and what to do when targeted. Most of the scams Lohman addresses are telephone related and are referred to by the nature of the deceit.
In this type of ruse, the caller pretends to be a relative in trouble and in need of funds, fast. Con artists can make this one convincing because they might use the grandchild’s actual name, information often easily found online, Lohman said.
About 10 members of the audience said they’ve received these types of calls.
“I’ve had two calls where people used two different grandsons’ names,” said Elizabeth Jorgensen of Westlake Village. “I didn’t give them any information, but it is scary because you rationalize to yourself why they might not sound like the actual person because they’re scared or hurt.”
Jorgensen did just what Lohman recommends—she hung up the phone and called her grandkids to make sure they were OK, which they were.
Another popular con, the IRS scam, involves a person representing themselves as being from the Internal Revenue Service.
The caller will claim their target underpaid their taxes and must fork up the cash immediately or face police action.
Lohman told the audience that the IRS will never contact them by phone, only mail, and would never involve law enforcement.
Jury duty scam
Similar to the IRS scam, this ruse also involves a caller posing as a government employee, who will say the person has missed jury duty service and must pay a fine immediately or go to jail.
“That’s not how it works,” Lohman told the group. “I’ve never arrested someone in 23 years (of police service) for missing jury duty.”
Classified ad scam
There are scams that involve Craigslist and other classified ads in which both buyers and sellers can get taken.
Buyers who pay upfront from afar might find the item they thought they were buying never existed and the photos used for advertising it were stolen, cut and pasted from another website.
“Make sure you can see it, you can touch it and, where it applies, you can walk through it in person before any money is exchanged,” Lohman said.
On the flip side, sometimes the con artist contacts sellers, negotiates the sale and sends a check for more than the amount of the sale for various fake reasons, hoping the seller will refund the “extra” before realizing the original check the buyer used was no good.
The seller is then out that money plus any charges from the bank for cashing a bad check.
‘You’ve won!’ scam
An oldie but still in practice, the sweepstakes-type scam is when a person is told over the phone they’ve won a contest but need to put money upfront to claim it. The caller will usually say the money is to pay the tax due on the cash prize.
“We do not give money to get it, and if the IRS wants it, they’ll tax it at the end of the year,” Lohman said before telling the story of a Thousand Oaks man who, believing he’d won big, began giving away everything he owned and selling his home in anticipation of his new wealth.
The man was so convinced he’d won he wouldn’t listen to the detective, who then had to get the man’s family and the courts involved to protect him from losing more than he already had.
Other cons involve scammers using fake websites that closely mimic official websites. For these, the web pages and URLs can look nearly identical to the real sites. Lohman suggests taking the time to ensure the URL is correct and doesn’t use the numerals 1 or 0 where the letters L or O should be, for example.
Among the saddest schemes the detective has seen are online dating scams in which con artists prey on those looking for love.
“I had a woman crying on the phone because she said she was in love with this person who was able to take $22,000 because Prince Charming played on her emotions,” Lohman told the group.
Often, dating scammers will steal other people’s photos and might pretend to be in the military to explain their being out of the country and unavailable to meet in person. If your online friend starts asking for cash, do some snooping on your own to make sure things are legitimate, even if you think they are in love with you.
In nearly all the scams, Lohman’s advice is just about the same: verify before giving information or money. This includes wiring funds, sending checks, purchasing gift cards, etc.
“By doing your research, believe me, it’s going to keep your money where it belongs: in your account, not theirs,” he said.
To reach Lohman, call (805) 494-8232.
To report a scam, call the sheriff’s scam hotline at (805) 371-8327.