Scammers will try any tactic to separate unsuspecting people from their money, and the Federal Trade Commission is trying to arm people with the information they need to avoid getting swindled.
The FTC has an online dashboard and interactive map that allows users to learn about the number and types of complaints coming in of scams, spam and other unwanted contacts. To learn more about the dashboard, visit ftc.gov/enforcement/data-visualizations/explore-data. The FTC also has a page for information about COVID-19 related scams, which is available online at ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams-consumer-advice.
In South Carolina, the FTC recorded 866 reports of fraud from Jan. 1 to earlier this week, and more than $450,000 in total fraud loss, with a median loss of $185 per case. Most of the scams were about online shopping and travel, but local law enforcement have still been getting reports of jury duty and bail money scams.
“The face of it changes, but it’s all pretty much the same,” said Jonathan Link, Greenwood Police Department public information officer. “They’re trying to get people to send them gift cards, or money or whatever it is.”
Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jeff Graham said most recently he’s been getting reports of utility service scams where people get calls and texts about being behind on their power bill.
“I’ve had people calling up here saying ‘I got this call, but my Duke power bill is drafted out of my checking account every month,’” he said. “It’s a scam.”
He said anyone with questions about their bill status should hang up when receiving a call like that and call the utility in question. That way, it’s clear that the customer is being connected with an actual representative of the company.
Jury duty scams involve calls telling a person they’ve missed jury duty, and to avoid being arrested they have to pay a fine immediately.
“Law enforcement is not going to ask you for any money for any reason,” Graham said. “The only time you’d be asked for money is if you go to court and a judge orders you to pay.”
Sometimes scammers use officials’ actual names in order to seem legitimate, and Graham said he’s heard of people getting scam calls that use Sheriff Dennis Kelly’s name, along with the names of local judges. Again, he said hanging up and calling the agency or office in question back is a good way to ensure the person on the other end of the line is who they say they are.
In the event that a person does miss jury duty, Graham said most often they’ll be sent paperwork by mail to inform the person of the situation, or a deputy will visit the person’s residence to check on them and inform them they need to be in court.
A common scam Graham said he hears about is asking people for bail money. These scammers often target older people, and tell them that a relative has been arrested and will be kept in jail unless they can come up with bail money. The scammers often ask for this money in the form of gift cards, which Graham said is a telltale sign of a scam.
Link said the police department has received fairly steady complaints of scams. While the style of the scam changes from month to month, the goal of separating people from their money is always the same.
He advised people to always find a way to independently verify the situation when called about something serious, and not to give out personal information.