Beware: Scammers and hackers are out to get your money by phone, on the internet or in person, and if you’re not wary enough, they just might succeed.
That’s advice from several authorities, including Marsha Mann, who has been a crime prevention specialist with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office for about a decade, and in law enforcement/crime prevention for eight years before that.
A couple of door-to-door and phone scams have been surfacing again on the North Coast, according to Mann and some who’ve encountered the scammers recently.
Scams can range from door-to-door sales of services and products you’ll never receive, to phone calls (perhaps warning you that your credit information has been compromised or there’s a bill you must pay instantly), to emails luring you to click on a link that leads to malware, viruses and loss of your personal information.
One way people are warning each other about what’s happening in real time is through social media, which can be helpful and timely, Mann said during a March 6 phone interview.
F2F (face to face)
Terry Skeoch of Cambria posted on Facebook Feb. 26 that two “nice young men” knocked on her door that day, “soliciting ‘votes’ for themselves to earn trips to Paris with some sort of public speaking group.”
She described one as wearing glasses and a hat and having brown curly-ish hair, and the other as a blond whose clothing included a gray sweatshirt.
Skeoch wrote that customers “give them money to subscribe to various magazines which would go to either children’s hospitals or veterans’ centers, with half of the subscription price going toward the trips” the sellers supposedly want to earn.
“Each subscription represents a ‘vote,’ ” she said. Cash, check or credit card payments were acceptable.
“It got more and more convoluted as I spoke to them,” Skeoch said, “and my boyfriend began to suspect a scam. He looked it up online” and concluded that’s exactly what it was.
Others reported that they’d had similar encounters with magazine sellers on Park Hill and Pine Knolls.
Mann said the Sheriff’s Office had gotten quite a few calls from Cambrians about the magazine-sales folks, who “might have been legit, but the reason I doubt it is that two different people reported that when they said ‘no,’ the guy got really flippant … or aggressive.”
She said the department hadn’t gotten calls from any other area about the subscription sales.
According to the Better Business Bureau website at www.bbb.org, “not all door-to-door magazine sales are scams,” but the key to not being ripped off is doing your own research and not taking the seller’s spiel at face value. Take your time. Don’t let the seller rush you into a decision. Investigate the seller at business websites such as business bureau’s, which advises “to see what others’ experience has been, or call your local BBB for more information.”
Those who don’t want to go through all that can do what Mann and others do: say no and close the door. Then call the Sheriff’s Office dispatch nonemergency number at 805-781-4550.
“Dispatchers are keeping track of the possible scams,” Mann said.
Phone scams “prey on panic,” according to one Facebook poster referring to the panic of what will happen if your grandchild really is in jail or seriously ill in a foreign country, or the imminent shutoff of your power because payment of your bill supposedly is so delinquent.
Sometimes the calls appear on caller ID systems as being from a local number, or even from a friend.
One evergreen phone scam that’s resurfacing in this county again, Mann said, is the one in which the caller purports to be with IRS and demands immediate payment.
That one “never stops,” Mann said, although the frequency ebbs and flows. “It seems to be lasting longer and coming back sooner, and this is the season.”
She reiterated advice often given by other law enforcers, BBB officials and the IRS itself: “IRS will never call you” with that kind of demand, Mann said. “They’ll send you a letter, likely registered or certified.”
Aaron Wharton, owner of 927 Beer Company in Cambria, got a phone-scam call from an 800 number on Feb. 22. The caller “stated our power was to be shut off within the hour if we didn’t pay up.” Wharton hung up and “called the real PG&E and found that we are all current.”
It paid to be wary. The caller from “the fake number did a decent job of imitating the real deal,” Wharton said later that day. “Always take a minute to do some quick research.”
Then he urged his Facebook friends to “spread the word.”
Anybody who has been contacted by scammers also should call officials at 805-781-4550, Mann said. However, “if they feel they are being threatened or are in danger, they should call 911.”
Unfortunately, some of the people least likely to notify officials are the ones who have been ripped off by the scammers, perhaps because they’re ashamed of having been gullible.
“A lot of these plots are being foiled” by aware citizens, Mann said. “But some people will never admit they’ve been conned, especially senior citizens who are afraid that people will say they can no longer function on their own.”