Two Routt County women -- one from Hayden and one from Steamboat Springs--recently were confronted by a common telephone scam.
The women were called by people who identified themselves as members of a seemingly legitimate organization that needed money. Police say the callers on the other end of the line really were looking for a way to rip off the women.
Neither resident fell prey to scam artists. But law enforcement officials say the recent reports of telephone scam attempts are reminders of what is safe to talk about on the phone.
Routt County Sheriff John Warner said that during the past two months, he has received several calls from county residents concerned about questionable telephone calls they received from people asking for money.
The Hayden woman was called Feb. 3 by someone who claimed to be with the Veteran's Assistance Council -- an organization the caller said was set up to financially assist veterans of foreign wars, Warner said.
The woman told deputies the caller was very aggressive and insisted she contribute to the fund. The caller tried to make the woman feel guilty for not giving the group money, Warner said.
However, Warner said the woman did exactly what she was supposed to do -- she hung up.
"My word of advice to any and everyone has always been: Hang up the phone if anyone calls you at home asking for money," he said.
Warner said the Veteran's Assistance Council is not a real organization.
In addition to the bogus veterans' group, Warner said he has received reports from residents that callers claiming to be representing the Police Protection Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Canadian Lottery have been calling residents and asking for money.
The Police Protection Assoc-iation and Fraternal Order of Police are legitimate organizations, Warner said, but he warns residents not to donate money to phone solicitors who may not be genuine.
"They allege to give money to our local D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs in our schools, but we've never seen a penny from them. People assume it will go to the (Steamboat Springs Police Department) or the (Routt County Sheriff's Office), but that is not the case," he said.
Warner also advises people to never give their dates of birth, Social Security number, bank account numbers or other personal information over the telephone. A scammer could use that information for identity theft.
Steamboat Springs police Detective Ross Kelly, who oversees the city's fraud claims, said he recently handled a case in which an elderly woman was told she won $250,000 in the Canadian lottery and needed to send $2,700 to pay taxes on the winnings before she could be sent her windfall.
"This is a typical scam," Kelly said. "It's called the advance-fee scam. Someone tries to get you to pay them a certain amount of money to cover an expense of some kind and then they say they'll send the prize, which they never do."
The key to recognizing most scams is detecting the urgency with which the caller demands information or money. Kelly said most scam artists say they need the money right away or the victim will lose the bogus prize.
"I always say if it's too good to be true, it probably is. People need to demand some serious answers to their questions. If people are asking for money over the phone, and if they can't validate the organization, they shouldn't donate or participate," Kelly said.
Kelly said the local subject of the Canadian lottery scam was lucky. She was going to send a $2,700 money order to the scammer but was stopped when a City Market employee questioned the woman's transaction.
"If that employee hadn't asked her about sending that much money away, she would have done it," he said.
Kelly said the lottery scam is one of many he monitors. The most popular scam is one in which Nigerian "workers" says they need to send money to an American bank because they can't process their paychecks in Nigeria. The goal of the scam is to get access to the victim's bank account information.
"I've seen people lose $200,000 in a few days with these types of scams," he said.
Scams similar to the Nigerian and Canadian lottery solicitations can be set up over the telephone, on the Internet, by facsimile or by mail.
"These people don't discriminate. They'll go after anybody, any way they can. That's sad but true," he said.
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