MOUNT OLIVE — If it sounds too good to be true, it always is, said Tommy Brown, Mount Olive chief of police.
That is one piece of advice to ward off potential scammers Brown gave a group of Golden Agers, Wayne County and Duplin County residents Tuesday morning. Brown spoke on how people can protect themselves from scammers over lunch at Rita’s Place in Mount Olive.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of our young and elderly,” Brown said. “Bringing this information to them educates them and hopefully makes them less of a victim should they fall prey to something like this.”
Brown was invited to speak with the Golden Agers, a club that meets monthly for fellowship over lunch. Dot Deeren, president of the club, invited Brown as the monthly speaker after she fell victim to a phone scam claiming she had won money. Deeren purchased gift cards to send to the person who claimed she won money in order to receive her supposed prize, but soon realized she was scammed.
Luckily, Brown said the Mount Olive Police Department tracked down where the cards were sent and retrieved Deeren’s money. Since then, Deeren said she wanted to raise awareness of potential scams so people do not fall prey to them.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” Deeren said. “I was unlucky in a way because it messed up my phone.”
Scammers often target the elderly and often know how to manipulate people into getting what they want, Brown said. Common phone scams include people calling claiming they are a grandchild, or a third-party caller claiming they are with a hospital.
“Anytime anyone paints a picture that sounds too good to be true, it always is, unfortunately,” Brown said. “If you do get a phone call like that, see if you can misdirect them and once they provide misinformation to you, then you know they’re not telling the truth and just hang up.”
Many scammers spoof local phone numbers that look legitimate, Brown said.
In some cases, people reported receiving calls from scammers claiming they are local law enforcement officers or even posing as Social Security Administration employees, according to Laura Brewer, communications director for the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office. Con artists can trick the caller ID system to show the SSA’s real phone number, which is 1-800-772-1213, she said.
In January, deputies with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office received an influx of reports from concerned citizens who received calls from a man claiming he was Capt. Ray Brogden and demanding money. Maj. Richard Lewis confirmed Brogden is a captain with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, but law enforcement officers do not call to threaten people with arrests for not paying a fine or missing jury duty.
Brown said there are certain safeguards people can take to protect themselves from potential scams, such as shredding mail; installing passwords; changing passwords every three months; keeping an eye on billing cycles; securing personal information, deposit slips and checkbooks; and not posting personal information on social media.
“There are people that go through people’s trash and when they find those credit card offers, they’ll fill those out with their address and your name,” he said.
People can also write down all serial numbers of items in the event their house is broken into, Brown said. The list will help law enforcement identify stolen items that turn up in pawnshops or are found.
Other scams can include fraudulent contractors who require payment before completing a job or salesmen offering “once in a lifetime” deals.
“Unscrupulous salespeople can insert information or amounts different from the original oral agreement,” Brown said. “Make sure everything is written into the contract. If somebody shows up at your house, don’t hesitate to call us.”
Victims of possible scams should contact local law enforcement to file a report or 911, Brown said. People can also report scam phone calls to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or complete an online form at www.ncdoj.gov.
“Even though you may not think it’s an emergency, in my eyes it is an emergency,” said Brown. “Somebody is there to take advantage of you, and I want someone there to make sure they’re legitimate.”