An advice from investigators to avoid falling into scams

An advice from investigators to avoid falling into scams

CEDAR RAPIDS Telephone and Internet scams are rampant everywhere, and the Cedar Rapids Police Department receives regular reports of new scams popping up in the area. A scam was recently reported in which the caller claimed to represent the Cedar Rapids Police Department and was asking for donations to help widows and orphans.

New phone and Internet scams keep popping up, according to the department, and scammers often pose as local businesses or even family members.

The Gazette recently spoke with Detective Brian Freeberg, of the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, about what types of scams are reported and how to avoid them.

Q: What are some of the most common scams you see?

A: We are seeing types of banking scams, where people get unwanted calls from (supposed) banks, saying: Your accounts have been compromised. They will trick the recipient of that call into giving out personal information, then those people will wire money from their account with that information. Some of the things, on this, that I would recommend are, if you get a call from a bank, call your local phone number and talk to your local bank, the number you look up yourself. This way you know you are actually talking to someone from your bank. Call the 800 number on the back of your card or go straight to the bank and tell someone about it.

Another one we are seeing a lot is a computer takeover, where a Microsoft or similar message will appear on your computer saying there is a security risk. There are all sorts of different variations of this. It will say “Click here” or “Call this number”. Most of the time it will be a scam. I recommend never clicking on the pop-up or calling that number. Many times you can restart your computer and that message disappears and also update your security scans. And if the problem persists, you can always take it to a local repair shop just to make sure there is no problem.

The important thing is not to panic, because that’s what always gets people into trouble. Just take a step back. Nothing is so bad that you have to make a decision right away. You need to verify that you are making the right decision.

There are online scams where many times a lonely person will meet someone on a chat site and that person will pretend to be in a romantic relationship with them, or friendship, over time and get them to send them money, or receive or send checks or cryptocurrency. It will never be anything legit.

The grandparent scam is a big scam that continues to persist, where someone will call and sometimes they have your grandchild’s name and other times they’ll prompt you without you knowing, and say this is your grandchild and I need money for the bail. I just got arrested. Many times the person panics and has the nephew’s name repeated and then does it, so the rest of the call seems more legitimate than it is. The key is that you can always get a phone number and call someone back. Don’t panic. Call your child, call your grandchild, and don’t provide any money. They will actually send a courier to your home to collect the money. It happened to me, I think last year and the year before.

Finally, charities are a big thing that we’re seeing. People will call and say this is a police association. Most of the time it’s just telemarketing and your local police department won’t see a dime. So if you really want to donate to your local department, we have a website for our Cedar Rapids Police Protective Charity, and you can donate there or you can go in and actually donate in person.

Q: What should people look out for to identify scams?

A: Usually if someone calls you and asks for information, it’s probably not legitimate. Like I say, write down the information, then look up the phone number in your address book or do your Google search and call your bank or ask a family member. Please feel free, if you have a question, to call the police department and we can advise you if we believe it is a scam. Just don’t panic, that’s the important thing.

Another thing they’re going to do with banks is, if you go to your local banks, for example, and take $10,000 for a grandparent scam, someone at the bank will collect it. Scammers will actually tell you: We had some dirty employees at the bank, so don’t let them know what’s going on. Or they’ll tell grandpa, just tell him you’re giving money to your grandchild or you’re giving money to your child or you’re getting a new roof on your house. Bankers will often question these people and the scammer will tell them not to tell the truth.

Q: How difficult is it as a police to track down these scammers?

A: Some of them are very difficult, especially the online ones because you may be dealing with someone in another state. You may be dealing with someone in another country. It’s very difficult to trace, especially for a local police department to find out where it came from. Even if we can find out the IP address they are using, it is from a different state or country and they may be using public Wi-Fi or a fake phone number and it is extremely difficult to trace them.

Q: Were there any local scams that you were able to track down?

A: We didn’t see many local scams. Like I said, with that grandparents scam, they actually send locals to the area that they hire to go and courier and collect money from the grandparents. Let’s catch someone in the act, one of those couriers, last year or the year before. That’s about all I usually see in regards to anyone local actually being involved.

Q: Are there specific demographics targeted or are the calls usually random?

A: I think these are random calls and I believe a lot of them, from my experience, were landline calls. Not to generalize here, but some of the older generation don’t want to give up the fixed line they’ve had for several years. And I think that’s what they prey on. I think it’s one of those where enough people call and it only takes one to pay off to make it worth it.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Take a step back. There’s nothing you can’t get a phone number from someone, if it’s legit, and call them back and do your homework. If your bank accounts are compromised, most of the time the bank will refund you anyway. So, take your time and don’t rush into anything.

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