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DA’s office offers warning: Stay vigilant of scams, ask for help

Janice Garrett, director of consumer protection at the Northwestern District Attorney's office

Janice Garrett, director of consumer protection at the Northwestern District Attorney's office

GREENFIELD — The letter seems like it offers nothing but good news.

Congratulations, you’ve won $50,000, it says. It can be sent to you quickly and easily. All you need to do is deposit this enclosed $3,000 cashier’s check (enough money to cover taxes and delivery fees) and wire that money to a specific account to get the transfer under way.

But the $50,000 isn’t real and neither was the $3,000 check. By the time the bank rejects it days later, the person who fell for the scam will never retrieve the money that he or she wired away.

It’s just one of many scams that clever criminals attempt on a regular basis to trick people into sending them money, said Janice Garrett, director of consumer protection for the Northwestern District Attorney’s office. Garrett and state Assistant Attorney General Ann Lynch spoke to a handful of senior citizens about the scams at the Weldon House last week as part of national consumer protection week.

Although the Attorney General’s Office works to take action against scammers, it’s often difficult to retrieve money that is lost, said Lynch. That’s why the state wants people to be more aware of scams and seek help and guidance at places like the Northwestern District Attorney’s office.

Even frequently used scams, like the prize money letter, are still sometimes successful, they said. Certain demographic groups could be targeted for particular scams, but everyone is a potential target.

Scammers are creating new tricks all the time, they said. New technology can make a telephone number begin with a “413” area code on a person’s caller ID, regardless of if the person is really calling from western Massachusetts.

Any request to wire money or share personal information on the phone should cause immediate suspicion, said Garrett and Lynch. There’s no reason that the government would need to request someone’s Social Security number to offer a discount or for a cable provider to call and ask for an account number.

They recommend that a person should hang up immediately, without saying anything, if a call seems suspicious. The person should then look up a reliable phone number for whoever was purporting to call. It’s an easy way, they said, to determine whether the call was legitimate.

In some cases, they said, scammers can prey on the fear of older people scared for the safety of their children or grandchildren. One common scam has the caller pose as the person’s distressed grandson, who ended up in a foreign jail over spring break and needs money immediately for his release.

“They come up with these elaborate stories and they scare you,” said Garrett.

As more people have become suspicious of phony cashier checks, and bank tellers have been trained to look out for them, scammers have begun attempting a new trick that uses prepaid debit cards, said Lynch and Garrett.

Most credit card companies sell prepaid debit cards in stores, allowing people to deposit a certain amount of money onto the cards. The cards themselves are fine, they said, but scammers will trick a person into sharing card information that gives the scammer free and immediate access to the money.

“Criminals like this because it’s so quick,” said Garrett. “(It’s a) newer, faster way for criminals to get money from you.”

Garrett said her office can answer any questions or concerns people may have. To contact her, call 413-774-3186 or visit www.northwesternda.org/consumer-protection.

The Attorney General’s Office records all reports of scams to look for patterns, said Lynch.

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