BY MELANIE BUCK –
A local couple, like many, have been fighting becoming the victims of phone scams for several years now, but recently found themselves almost that, victims. Lou and Sandy Brooks, a retired couple that moved to Mena several years ago to enjoy the leisure life, say they sometimes get three to five phone calls a day saying anything from ‘you’ve won a free trip’ to ‘you’re computer has a virus and we can help.’
Sandy Brooks admits that she is a skeptic and that has saved them more than once. However, the most recent phone call not only had them worried about a family member, it almost lost them $2,800.
“When I answered the phone, a man on the other end said, ‘grandpa?’ and I said no, this is Sandy, hang on. When Lou got on the phone he said, ‘Jason?’ and that’s where they got his name,” Sandy explained. ‘Jason,’ on the other end of the line, began telling Lou of how he was in a car wreck in Oklahoma City and had twelve stitches in his mouth, which is why he didn’t ‘sound like himself.’ ‘Jason’ also explained that he had been arrested for a DWI and needed bail money, that a lawyer would contact the grandparents soon with the information needed to send the money. Sure enough, just a few minutes later, the ‘lawyer’ called. He gave the Brooks the information and said send the money and we’ll get him out of jail. At this point, Sandy’s skeptic radar went on high-alert.
She began calling the Oklahoma City police department but couldn’t get them to answer the phone so she called the Polk County Sheriff’s Department. One of the questions the Sheriff’s Department asked was if they had tried to directly contact Jason. They took the advice and called Jason and he was definitely not in jail and not in Oklahoma City. Jason lives in Chicago and was quite well when they spoke with him.
Sandy spoke again with the Sheriff’s Department and told her that there truly is nothing they can do. There are no ways to track down phone scammers and because of that, it is becoming an increasing problem. “In a community like Mena, where there are so many retired, elderly people, scams like this, once they come, they saturate the entire community.
In fact, local law enforcement says they receive calls almost daily complaining of another scam. What’s worse, so many people fall for them, sending sometimes thousands of dollars before they realize they’ve been taken. “I don’t know where the fault lies but it has to be stopped. It’s going on all over the world,” Sandy said.
Some of the other calls the Brooks have received claim to be AT&T wanting to help them clear up a virus on their computer. “Others say you have won something and just send $3.90, which doesn’t sound like much but it adds up and plus, they then have your credit card info,” she explained.
Not only have they plagued home phones but also now attack cell phones and the scammers and even hacked into the local area code here to where the phone call looks like it’s local, but it’s really not. Many times the calls are thought to originate in Canada or the Caribbean.
Not wanting others to become victims of these all-to-often scams, the Brooks hope their story is heard and others head the warnings.
According to the National Council on Aging here are some of the ways to avoid becoming a victim of a phone scam: 1. Be aware that you are at risk. 2. Don’t isolate yourself. 3. Tell solicitors, “I never buy from, or give to, anyone who calls or visits unannounced. Send me something in writing.” 4. Shred all receipts with your credit card number. 5. Sign up for the Do Not Call list and take yourself off of multiple mailing lists. 6. Use direct deposit for benefit checks to prevent checks from being stolen from the mailbox. 7. Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. 8. Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and thoroughly do your research.
Many scammers will ask for personal information over the phone, but in all actuality, most companies won’t ask for that information via phone or email, they will direct mail you paperwork to fill out. Another key to remember is that the IRS never contacts taxpayers via phone or email, they only contact taxpayers by direct mail. To keep from becoming a victim, follow the tips above and always, always ask questions.