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Sheriff issues alert after local fraud victims lose over $89K

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.—St. Joseph County Sheriff William Redman issued a fraud alert on September 3 after a string of fraud reports in the community.

During the months of July and August 2019, St. Joseph County Police investigated 12 fraud reports, with victim losses totaling $89,589.

According to the sheriff, all scams began with a phone call or online message.

A common payment transfer method used by nearly all of the scams was the use of a pre-paid card.

“Never purchase pre-paid gift, Mastercard, Google Play, eBary or any other type of card to make payment to anyone,” Sheriff Redman said.

The victims were of varying ages ranges but some were elderly and reported being unfamiliar with technology.

One victim was a recent widow and believed that the caller was a company that the deceased spouse had dealt with. Another victim is deaf.

Below are summaries of the investigations handled by the St. Joseph County Police over the last two months:

  • July 5: A 63-year-old attempted to purchase a dog online from a breeder using eBay gift cards. Once a $500 payment was made, the victim was instructed to pay more money but after becoming suspicious, the victim attempted to stop the payment. The breeder stopped answering the victim’s phone calls and stopped posting dog listings online.
  • July 10: A 23-year-old victim attempted to contact Amazon’s Customer Service Center with a number listed online to report a bank charge on their account from the company. The victim was told the account was comprised and the “customer service rep” needed remote access to the victim’s computer. The victim was then instructed to pay $900 using Google Play cards to secure a “fix for the breach.”
  • July 12: A 64-year-old victim applied for a loan on a legitimate website and a short time later, the victim was called and told to secure $3,000 worth of Walmart Money Grams for a loan fee. The victim mailed the money grams to the caller.
  • July 18: An 84-year-old victim received a call from someone claiming to be a police officer in the town where her grandson lives saying  that her grandson had been arrested and the victim would need to pay $6,000 to get her grandson out of jail. The victim put $3,500 into a magazine and mailed it to the P.O. Box as instructed by the caller.
  • July 19: A 24-year-old victim was contacted by someone claiming they worked at AppleCare stating the computer had been hacked and the victim needed to give the caller remote access and in order to protect personal information, would have to send the caller $1,400 worth of Google Play cards.
  • July 25: A 58-year-old recently widowed victim reported receiving a voicemail from PC Remote stating that $499 would be taken from a bank account if the call wasn’t returned immediately. The victim called back and was told that too much money was refunded for a previous subscription and in order to help the “employee” not be fired, the victim had to send Walmart and Google Play cards in the amount of $4,000 to the “employee.”
  • July 29: An 87-year-old victim gave remote access to their computer to “Shawn from Toshiba Computers” at which point “Shawn” accessed the victim's banking accounts. The victim ended up losing about $12,309.
  • August 8: A 55-year-old deaf victim received messages on Facebook from someone claiming to be an old friend and a “lottery expert” who claimed he could help the victim win $1,000,000. The victim ended up sending around $62,500 to the “lottery expert” at an address in California.
  • August 8: A 67-year-old victim was messaging on social media with someone from an organization called United Nation Development Program who claimed to be able to help the victim with the IRS and help them buy a house. The victim was told Fed-Ex would come pick up the money and a delivery truck went to the victim’s house and picked up an envelope with $3,000 inside.
  • August 23: A 28-year-old victim found a house rental on Craigslist and contacted someone claiming to be the property owner on Facebook. The victim sent the “owner” $500 for a deposit and first month’s rent of $980 but later discovered the address did not exist and the fake landlord blocked the victim on Facebook.
  • August 23: A 46-year-old victim found a number online for AppleCare and spoke with someone claiming they could help for a payment of $100 in iTunes gift cards. The victim called the person back and gave them the iTunes card number and their debit card number.
  • August 26: A 51-year-old victim received a message stating they were wanted by “Federal Court” because they failed to show up for a jury duty summons. When the victim called back, they were told they could be arrested but could get out of it by paying $900. The victim purchased two prepaid Mastercard gift cards for that amount and called the scammer back. The scammer informed the victim to go to the federal building in South Bend to pick up a receipt at which point the victim discovered it was a scam. The victim also gave the scammer their social security number.

“Generally, the people caught in the scammers net are those who are vulnerable or are put into a temporary state of fear or concern by the scammer and thus are not thinking with a clear mind. The victims have recent widows and people who have been put into a state of fear regarding the safety of their personal information or the safety of family members. Often these scammers have just enough information about the victim to not immediately raise a red-flag in the mind of the victim,” Sheriff Redman said.

The sheriff is asking the community to be vigilant in protecting against potential scams.

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