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Just as smartphones and social media allow people to stay in touch with distant relatives or conduct business from almost anywhere in the world, they have also created opportunities for criminals. Sergeant Martina Jakober said the Guilford Police Department has noticed a rise in phone and Internet scams, especially digital identity theft, and the department continues to wage a battle both to identify and pursue criminals who carry out these scams and educate the public on how to defend against them.
Aside from well-known national Social Security and IRS scams, where people receive threatening phone calls purporting to be from federal agencies who demand money, Jakober said one scam has recently been targeting Guilford businesses.
Scammers have been calling a restaurant or store, usually on busy weekend evenings, pretending to be from an energy company like Eversource, according to Jakober. The scammer threatens that the business will have its power shut off within hours or minutes if the business owner does not pay an allegedly late bill. The owner, terrified of losing customers due to having no electricity and unable to reach the power company’s customer service department because it is a weekend, often pays the scammer.
These sorts of simple, tried-and-true scams are mixed in with more devious Internet cons. Jakober said another incident the department recently investigated was a Craigslist advertisement where someone was allegedly selling a large item like a car or piece of farm equipment. The scammer had built an almost identical copy of a legitimate businesses’ website, only changing the contact information, so that the victim thought they were dealing with a well-known, legitimate company. The victim then paid the scammer by way of the fake contact information from the fake but very believable website, with no way of knowing they were not actually dealing with the real, reputable company.
“Whoever is doing this, whoever is creating these websites...is amazing. Whoever their web designer is, is fantastic. It looks better than the real company’s website,” said Jakober. “That’s the whole job of the scammer: Make it sound real, make it be real.”
Often, the only way to avoid these scams is to know what they are. Jakober said the police department regularly updates its Facebook page with scams as they are identified or become more common. She encouraged anyone who feels they are being scammed or is concerned an email, website, or phone call was illegitimate to contact the department.
Guilford police also have a comprehensive instructional guide for anyone who has had his or her identity stolen that includes step-by-step instructions on how to prevent any further damage to credit or finances.
There are some simple ways to avoid being scammed, Jakober said, including not answering the phone when you don’t recognize the number and paying attention to other signs, like if someone is rushing you to give them money in a short timeframe.
Although many of these cases are complex and the scammers are often out of state or even out of country, Jakober said the department will do its best to follow scammers or identity thieves.
“We do our best to try and follow the paper trail,” said Jakober.
During her time at the department, Jakober said Guilford has shared evidence and information with both the FBI and other law enforcement agencies as far away as Puerto Rico.
Identity theft has also become generally more common, Jakober said, exacerbated by large data breaches at big companies like Equifax and Anthem.
Jakober said freezing your social security number to prevent anyone opening credit cards in your name is the best response if you know your information was compromised, and then unfreezing it when you need to open an account yourself.
“It’s just gotten to that point,” she said.
For more information, visit the department’s website at guilfordpd.com or call the department at 203-453-8061.
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