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HPD reports influx of scams, elderly at highest risk

Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 9:15 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Huntsville Police Department has dealt with an influx of scams over the past few months, mostly affecting the older population.

According to Huntsville Police Sergeant Joe Kennington, there’s been a rash of them posing as bondsmen or warranty specialists.

“They might even pose as a state or federal official, IRS, social security department and they oftentimes want you to pay them fines or back pay for taxes that are owed,” Kennington said.

Believe it or not, one major scam circulating right now is the “gift card scam.” Someone may call you claiming to be from the IRS, collecting fines in the form of gift cards. It’s common for a scammer to ask for a Walmart or Target gift card in particular.

“Every once in a while you will see them ask for prepaid debit cards,” Kennington said. “Any type of card that can be recharged and it has codes on the back that will give them access to the funds.”

The bottom line is no legitimate organization will ask you to pay them in gift cards.

“The police department is not going to do that for fines, the IRS is not going to do that for taxes and no one is going to do that for warrants,” Kennington said.

Another major scam circulating right now involves tech support. Someone might call you posing as a Microsoft worker, software agent or Amazon security specialist. Ultimately, the scammer wants access to your computer.

“If you give them access to your computer then you’ve pretty much opened yourself wide open, whether it be access to your bank account or them actually placing orders on amazon or some other shopping account,” Kennington said.

Another scam to watch out for: solicitation of ambassadors for companies. This is when scammers solicit people for work online or to be an ambassador for a company. The scammer will then send the victim a check and ask for a certain amount in return.

“We tell people that if they receive a check to run the information by their bank and give them the scenario,” Kennington said. “I would definitely run it through a financial professional before I go ahead and release $2,000 dollars just based off of somebody’s word that I have never met.”

Kennington also spoke about online sales through cash apps, which can lead to scams.

“If you can’t see the item that you are purchasing and you can’t meet the person that you are buying from, then you are at a high risk of being scammed,” he said.

So where do these scams originate? According to Kennington, a large majority come from overseas. Call lists and personal information get sold on the dark web, giving scammers everything they need to do their job.

Also, scammers don’t discriminate! They call thousands of people a day, knowing if they can hook just one, they’ll make money. However, they know which age group is most likely to fall victim.

“They tend to target elderly people more than they do others,” Kennington said. “Those are the ones that are suffering so we need to discuss it with them and we need to make sure that we share the importance of guarding your personal information.”

If you think you’ve been scammed, Kennington says there are a few initial steps you should take. The first step is to visit www.identifytheft.gov. If you scroll to the bottom of the screen you’ll see a tab called, Credit Bureau Contact Info. Once you click on that, the three main credit bureaus should come up: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.

“I would freeze my credit, contact your bank, I would put an alert on your account. And then of course I would make a police report,” Kennington said.

For updated scam information, you can visit www.consumer.ftc.gov. You’ll find detailed reports, tips on what to look out for and how to get help if you find yourself in a scam.

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