"If it looks too good to be true," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said about several recent reports of scams in the area. "It probably is."
Patrol Sgt. Jason Frazier explained to The Brazil Times officers have been notified of several scams taking place in the area.
"There's no reason to talk with these people, it's a fraud," Frazier said. "For scam artists, it's all about getting the money."
One of the most recent reports involved what is known as the "Jamaican Phone Scam."
Frazier explained this type of scam takes place when a victim is notified they have won large cash prizes and/or a new car, but they have to send payment, usually in the requested form of a cashier's check, to cover the taxes owed or processing fees.
Often victims are asked to report a time they will be home so the car can be delivered, or informed the caller is from the United States Gaming Commission as a way to add credibility to the scam.
"(Scam artists) will tell you anything to make it sound legit," Frazier said. "Some of the victims have reported being told they have attorneys on staff and work with the government to combat scams."
However, a twist of fate allowed Frazier to personally question one fraudulent telemarketer calling from a phone number with an 876 prefix during an investigation.
Turns out the area code "876" is a Jamaica exchange, which has been officially associated with scams. The similarity of the false area code to official toll-free numbers can be confusing and often adds to the validity of the scam.
"These types of scam artists are very persistent, which also adds to their credibility. The phone rang again while I was there taking the report. They called back," Frazier said. "So I got on the phone, pretending to be the husband of the victim."
"When I asked what company the man worked for, where it was located and who his supervisor was, the man on the phone got frustrated and became angrier the more questions I asked," Frazier said.
Most of the information Frazier obtained from the phone call turned out to be false. But Frazier was able to confirm the phone number 876-866-1095 originated in Portland, Jamaica.
The telemarketer said a local retailer had entered the victim into a sweepstakes.
"I kept telling him, 'This is too good to be true,'" Frazier said. "I said, 'You shouldn't have to pay for something if you have you won it.' He didn't like that one bit."
Frasier said the same family had also received a fraudulent check sent to them in the mail, which has been reported by other local residents within the past month.
"We've had a lot of people bring strange checks into the department they have received in the mail," Frazier said. "If you receive something odd in the mail, that just doesn't look or seem right, take it to the bank to have it checked out, or bring it here to the department."
Some of the other recent scams reported in the area, include:
* Mail/Telephone Scam: A victim receives mail notification they have received a prize and need to dial a phone number to claim it. When calling the toll-free numbers provided in the letter, the caller wastes time being put on hold, which is usually followed by a third-party International call charge on their next phone bill.
* Western Union/Cashier's Check Scam: A victim is asked to cash a cashier's check for some reason, usually an emergency, and then send the funds to someone using Western Union.
* Internet/Cashier Check scams: Where a person selling an item on the Internet is sent a cashier's check by a scam artist for more than the amount owed.
"The seller is told to go ahead and cash the check, keep a set amount of money "for their trouble" and forward the remaining amount to a third party," Frazier said. "The banks potentially cash the checks, leaving the victim with the expense of a bogus check."
* Counterfeit Bills: Although only a couple have been reported locally, Frazier has in evidence at the department one $5 bill that has been washed and reprinted to look like a $100 bill.
* Bank Confirmation Scam: A victim is called by someone identifying themselves as a bank employee and requests verification of personal and/or banking information.
"Don't fall for this scam," Heaton said. "A bank shouldn't have to call you to verify your banking information, they already have it."
Frazier recommended people should educate themselves about potential scams.
"You can Google any type of scam and find out a lot of useful information," Frazier said.
He recommended two websites, the Utility Consumer Action Network (www.ucan.org) and the Common Fraud Schemes section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation website (http://www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/fraudschemes.htm).
"No one should ever give out their personal or financial information on the phone or online," Heaton said. "Scam artists are gaining access to a lot of personal information to make these scams seem real to the victims. Don't fall for it."
To report information about potential scams, contact the Clay County Sheriff's Department at 446-2535.