LEWISTOWN - Fraudulent activities happen daily and can leave victims in distress and with no money.
With just a cell phone, a thief can launch a scam that promises you a surprise sweepstakes win, or scares you into providing money to keep a relative out of jail.
Those who victimize local people are not always located in Mifflin and Juniata counties, or even Pennsylvania for that matter. And police want to educate the local populace to help them see a scam coming.
"We are hoping to provide information about the types of cases we are investigating." Chief of Lewistown Police Department Bill Herkert, said, "In hope to make sure that no one else becomes victims of these types of fraud."
People have been affected locally by small scams, and some have lost major money. What some people do not realize is that fraudulent activity is happening on a much larger scale.
In early November of 2012, MoneyGram International Inc., a global money services business headquartered in Dallas. agreed to forfeit $100 million and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in which it admits to criminally aiding and abetting wire fraud and failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program, says a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to the Department of Justice, MoneyGram was involved in mass marketing and consumer fraud "phishing" schemes, conducted by corrupt MoneyGram agents and others, that defrauded victims in the United States in the tens of thousands.
In April, 2007, at a senior MoneyGram executives meeting, the fraud department recommended that 32 specific Canadian agents that were characterized as "the worst of the worst" in terms of fraud be immediately closed. The sales department disagreed with the fraud department's recommendation, and these outlets were not closed; instead, MoneyGram continued to process transactions from the 32 outlets despite continued complaints of fraud, the Department of Justice said.
In this scam, Herkert said, people are being told they need to wire money to people to pay taxes on a lottery ticket they won or something similar.
"Either way, if someone asks you to wire money, it's an indication of fraud." Herkert said, "Especially if you don't know this person."
Scams over the internet can be run by people from all over the globe.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of New York, in a coordinated international takedown, law enforcement officials in Romania, Czech Republic, United Kingdom and Canada arrested a group of perpetrators with their involvement in a sophisticated multi-million dollar cyber fraud scheme that targeted consumers on U.S.-based internet marketplace websites.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said the group of scammers were responsible for saturating websites such as eBay.com, Cars.com, AutoTrader.com and CycleTrader.com, with detailed advertisements for cars, motorcycles, boats, and other high-value items generally priced in the $10,000 to $45,000 range. The merchandise did not exist and the scammers corresponded with the victim buyers by e-mail, sending fraudulent certificates of title and other information designed to lure the victims into parting with their money.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, after the scammers reached an agreement with the victim buyers, they would often e-mail them invoices purporting to be from Amazon Payments, PayPal, or other online payment services, with wire transfer instructions.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said the scammers earned over $3 million from the fraudulent scheme. The group was charged with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy and if convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.
If contacted in this manner, the first step is to independently verify that the person on the other end has the vehicle for sale; make them go to a local business where someone has seen the car, Herkert said.
"If the prices are very under book value, there might be an attempt of fraud." Herkert said, "People need to be very conscious of that."
Herkert said people need to do their homework. He said, don't send money to anyone before you can see the car or at least it is in the state.
A good tip Herkert offered to the public was to ask for references- have they sold cars before?
If someone is buying a car in state, the seller should be able to send identification information, Herkert said, because that can be shown to a local auto licensing service center to see if the car is legitimate.
Herkert recommends to not send money to a seller before an arrangement is made to see the vehicle. He said to be very careful when purchasing a vehicle out of state because certain titles need to be validated and they can be forged.
Mifflin County Regional Police Department has received several complaints from citizens in the area about fraudulent activity. A press release from MCRPD states three distinct phone scams have been identified and are common to this area.
According to the press release, in the first scam a citizen will receive a call from a subject claiming to be from a sweepstakes or other sort of prize distribution organization. The subject will advise the citizen that they are "on the way" and intend to meet them at a pre-determined location. This location is a legitimate area business that provides some sort of money order or other electronic money transfer system.
The release says the citizen is re-contacted by telephone and an excuse is given as to why the prize cannot arrive until some sort of monetary prize fee is collected. The citizen will be requested to forward the collection fee to an address provided by the scammer.
According to the release, in the second scam a citizen will receive a call from someone who purports to be a relative living or visiting a foreign country. The subject advises that they are in a prison or court and the conditions are deplorable. The subject will request money be electronically transferred in some manner to a predetermined location.
According to the release, in the third most common scam, a citizen will receive a call from someone who claims to be a law enforcement officer of some type. The caller advises the citizen that there is a warrant for their arrest and police are on the way to arrest them.
The caller advises the citizen that they can avoid arrest by electronically transferring money to a predetermined location, the release says.
MCRPD wishes for citizens to be alert to these situations because once money is electronically transferred, prosecution and or the recovery of the money is extremely difficult. If a citizen is ever unsure about a potential scam, contact the local police department.