Local banks warns against scams

Published 2:38 am Sunday, May 11, 2008

VIDALIA — In recent months, it seems like everyone is strapped for cash, and during these times scammers who want to separate people from their money are upping the ante.

Most of the scams United Mississippi Bank President Sammy Porter sees target the elderly, and increasingly, college students.

“They are preying on anybody they think they can get one over,” Porter said.

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One classic scam, in which the person on the losing end is told they can receive a large sum of money that has been tied up because of internal conflicts in Nigeria, has taken a new twist.

The scammer tells the victim all they have to do is pay the interest on the money, usually a small amount, and they will receive the sum — usually tens of thousands of dollars — in full.

Where this scam has changed is that someone recently came into the bank with “a very real-looking check from the government of Nigeria,” Porter said.

Where the scammer rips the victim off is by telling them they have to call to get a pin number to legitimize the check — for a fee.

“A lot of times the customer has already sent off money thinking it will make the check good,” Porter said.

A similar ploy is used to trick people out of their money with fake foreign lottery checks, Vice President and Compliance Officer for Britton & Koontz Bank Cliffie Anderson said.

The victim receives a notice in the mail they have won an overseas lottery, but to activate the check and receive the funds they have to pay some kind of “out of country” fee or taxes on it.

“Any time someone get a check and the sender wants part of the money back, it’s probably not a true check,” Anderson said. “If you didn’t enter the Canadian lottery, you probably didn’t win.”

In instances like that, scammers are just mass producing fake checks and sending them out to as many people as possible, Natchez Police Sgt. Craig Godbold said.

“They’re sending out thousands of these checks, and most people just throw them away, but if only one person cashes one of them, they’re still making money,” Godbold said.

But scams aren’t limited to fraudulent checks.

Recently, the Natchez police received a case where someone had gone online looking for student loans, and a scammer had tricked them into paying a $250 fee for “loan processing,” Godbold said.

One popular scam has a business ask an unsuspecting third party to work from home and “process payments,” cashing checks and sending the company the money, minus their pay.

“The work at home scam is just a good way for someone to launder money,” Concordia Bank President Pat Biglane said.

One common scammer trick is to cold-call someone and pose as a representative of a bank or credit card company and try to wheedle account information out of the victim.

But if someone contacts you and says they are from your bank or a credit company, they should be able to supply you with your account information, Anderson said.

“Anyone you do business with, they are not going to call you and ask for your account number, because they already have it,” she said. “One of the big tells for something like that is if they start getting angry and tell you something like, ‘Your account is going to be shut down immediately if you don’t verify this information.’”

If a scammer gives you a phone number to verify they are who they say they are, remember they are giving you that phone number, Anderson said.

“If you want to verify it is your bank, call them out of the phone book or off our bank statement,” Anderson said.

Other scammers might pretend to be orphans strapped for cash or religious organizations.

“They will say, ‘I have been praying about this and the Lord brought you to my mind,’” Godbold said.

If you have second thoughts or doubts about any kind of offer you have received, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion, Porter said.

Likewise, if you think you have been the victim of a scam, the easiest way to take care of it is to look over your bank statement, Anderson said.

“That takes less than five minutes, but it can save you so much grief in the long run,” she said.

Finally, there is one thing you should always remember, Godbold said.

“There is no free money,” he said.