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2012-07-12

BEWARE: Scamming still alive & well in Bandera County

By Richard and Evelyn Snyder Special to the Courie

By Richard and Evelyn Snyder Special to the Courier

Recently, my wife, Evelyn, and I have become involved in two instances of attacks by scammers. By publicizing them, others might recognize when they are threatened and avoid becoming victims.

The first involved a couple that approached Evelyn and me with a certified check for $2,995. The pitch was that they couldn't do anything with it because they didn't have a checking account. The couple hoped we could help them.

The letter with the check required the couple to go on a shopping venture, purchase certain items, keep about $400 for their services and to send the remainder of the money back to the issuer of the check using a money order. Evelyn and I decided that the check was a fraud and told them not to do anything.

Evelyn took the check to our bank.

Personnel thought it was legitimate.

So, to test it, we deposited the check in a small account of ours that didn't contain much money - then sat back and waited. Sure enough, in a few days the check was returned "invalid." Had this couple followed instructions, they would have been out about $2,000.

The lesson is to be suspicious of any unsolicited checks received, especially when they ask you to money order or wire money back to them. Do nothing without first verifying the authenticity of the issuer of the check.

The second situation is much more complicated and costly to the 90-year-old-plus man who fell victim to the "You have won a very large windfall in our Sweepstakes event" scam. As he described it, over several years, he had entered many of these "Sweepstakes" and other "you may already have won" publicity stunts.

About two years ago he finally received what he thought was the jackpot - winning hundreds of thousands of dollars. All he had to do was send money to complete the paperwork, then to pay Nevada taxes, and on and on.

Until all his resources were exhausted, the man sent money orders, wire transfers and electronic transfers that eventually amounted to over $70,000. Then he borrowed money and continued sending money, certain that, at last, he had won big time.

Finally, deep in debt, he filed bankruptcy in 2010, and yet the scam continued. In some of the correspondence with these scammers, he had included his driver's license number, birth date, social security number and even routing information giving the scammers access to his checking account. When he stopped sending them cash, they responded by issuing electronic withdrawals against his checking account every time his retirement checks were entered into his checking account.

The man also received checks in the thousands of dollars which he deposited to his checking account, only to have them electronically withdrawn the next day - and then the checks bounced.

Every week, he received dozens of letters from "spiritualists, mystics, religious gurus," and others who promised riches if he would send them money. Whether in the past the man had been giving the charlatans money or not, I don't know, but from the volume of mail, I suspect this may be one of the sources of his problems.

In May 2012, I became Power of Attorney over the man's financial matters, and immediately closed this checking account and opened a new, safe one. But it will take years, if ever, to pay off his debts.

Because I stopped the scammers from accessing his checking account, they went one step further. In June 2012, they went directly to Social Security, requesting that the man's Social Security payments be transferred to their account. They were able to do this because they already had all his information necessary.

The lesson is that these scammers are extremely smart. They know every way to get your money. Never, never, enter one of those "sweepstakes" or other promises of quick large amounts of cash. Use your receptacle called the trash bin.

And, never, never, never deposit a check from an unknown source without first verifying the check's validity.

Call the bank and confirm the validity of the check, then put a hold on that account until the check clears. And never send money back to the issuer.

If you receive that type of check, trash it, burn it, shred it, but don't cash it.

Also, never, never, never, never release your driver's license number, social security number, birth date, or bank account number or routing number to anyone except the absolutely most trusted and reliable person or entity. And, if your driver's license or social security numbers are is on your check blanks, get them off.

The most important rule is, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."

If anything like this has happened to you, don't be too embarrassed to tell your loved ones and the law enforcement the authorities.

Immediately close that affected bank accounts or ask the financial institution to put a freeze on your account until you can notify any direct depositors of your new account. Also, ask them to please watch your account and transfer monies to your new account as soon as your direct deposits come in. The president of his financial institution is doing this for the 90-year-old man.

Our hope is that this article will save someone the devastating losses described above. If we have accomplished that, our time spent has been worthwhile.