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The phone rings.
You answer it.
The caller advises you that you have won a prize. The catch is you have to send money to claim it.
“This is a scam,” said Detective Ed Carter with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. “Before you know it you have dumped thousands of dollars into a prize that never existed. No legitimate contest will make you pay to get a prize.”
Carter said Brunswick County is prime feeding ground for scammers. Typically, scams are seasonal but in this area with the large retirement community the scammers work the area year round.
“We are a target-rich environment,” he said.
He said the BCSO informed the media about such scams about eight months ago. For the next two to three months, reports of scams decreased, but in the last couple of months things have started picking up again.
“It’s not on the forefront of their mind anymore,” Carter said. “We have been experiencing an increase in the lottery scam phone calls again.”
He explained scammers target communities based on demographic information. When an area is marketed online as a retirement area, it tends to draw a higher number of scammers because of the advertising.
One of the challenges is recouping money. Once it is transferred electronically, it can go anywhere in the world and is often sent immediately out of the country.
In addition to a lottery scam, intimidating phone calls and emails are on the rise.
“We had a recent example where a gentleman’s son was deployed with the Marines in Afghanistan. They (scammers) called and said his son had been arrested for drugs in Afghanistan and that he would be released if the man paid $1,800,” Carter said. “The father caught on that it was a phishing scam. He contacted the Marine base and let them know there was a list of soldiers’ names that had been compromised.”
Another popular intimidation scheme involves saying a grandchild is in jail or has been in an accident and they need money.
“There has been a rash of assassination/threatening emails,” Carter said. “The email says a bounty has been put on your head because you violated a law someplace. It says that if you pay this amount, I’ll ignore it and call off the bounty.”
Other scams to be on the lookout for include the mystery shopper scam and phony rentals and sales on Craigslist. Lately there have been several vacated vacation homes in Holden Beach listed on Craigslist as available for rent. The scammer has been collecting leases.
“We had a couple almost go to closing on a home,” Carter said.
They became concerned when the closing was to be done via FedEx.
“Know who you are dealing with. Meet them in person,” Carter advised. “The most recent one we’ve had like this the person listing the property was in South Africa. Any transaction that involves real estate, land, homes, vehicles or boats, meet them in person.”
Carter advises people to avoid phone scams by not engaging the person on the other end of the phone.
“Hangup,” Carter said. “If the calls continue document the date and time. The phone company can block their calls. If you’ve actually had a financial loss, call the sheriff’s office.”
If you think you have been the victim of a scam, call the BCSO at 253-2777.
For more information on scams visit the Federal Trade Commission online at ftc.gov or call (877) FTC-HELP.
Rachel Johnsonis a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.