Police: ‘Identity theft, scams happen to everyone’

After a death in the family, a Bettendorf couple received a telephone call from someone impersonating a close relative.

The caller asked Phyllis Martin and her husband to transfer money into a PayPal account, but the couple immediately grew suspicious.

“I smelled a rat,” Martin told the audience Monday during a Bettendorf Police Department crime and scam prevention presentation at the Bettendorf Public Library. “To think someone could be so cold and heartless during such a hurtful time. Everyone needs to be leery of these criminals.”

Sgt. Jeff Nelson, Bettendorf’s crime prevention officer, who led Monday’s discussion, said he receives several reports each week about similar suspicious phone calls or emails that can lead to identity theft or scams.

“It’s an epidemic and it’s nonstop,” he said. “It’s amazing to see what lengths people go to prey on people.”

Nelson talked about various forms of identity theft and scams, including the “grandchild scam,” which usually ends with a desperate plea for money.

“Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person, and call the person they’re impersonating,” he said. “They don’t care about anybody.” 

Nelson also urged the audience to avoid carrying numerous credit cards or physical copies of passwords and personal identification numbers, or PINs.

This past weekend, Nelson said a woman left her purse in a shopping cart at a Bettendorf grocery store, and before the victim realized her wallet had been stolen, the suspects had used her credit cards to purchase items throughout the area.

“Never say, ‘it won’t happen to me,’ ” said Nelson, adding that close to 43 percent of consumer fraud victims know the perpetrators personally.

While older people tend to fall victim to online identity fraud or telephone scams more than other demographic groups, Nelson said it happens to everyone.

Davenport Assistant Police Chief Don Schaeffer said that recovering a stolen identity can be a long process and that it is something the department’s crime prevention unit handles all the time.

“It’s so easy to create a phony website or something online, and these criminals are smart and good at avoiding detection,” he said. “We’re just trying to make people aware of it.”

In 2004, Nelson said Russian crime organizations stole about $25,000 from Quad-City bank accounts. In 2009, when hackers stole credit card information from a Heartland Payment Systems database, many area residents were victimized.

Recently, after the Scott County Sheriff’s Office began posting outstanding warrants on its website, reports came to the attention of area authorities about scams alerting people that they could wire a sum of money to make their photograph and warrant information disappear, he said.

Nelson added that 25 million Americans fall victim to consumer fraud each year and that telemarketing fraud steals close to $40 billion every year.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is,” he said.

Article source: http://qctimes.com/news/local/police-identity-theft-scams-happen-to-everyone/article_0dff84fe-0a72-5976-9794-630221e5285c.html

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