Be on the alert — Scammers hide behind many masks
By John Kovach
Scam artists are posting as Microsoft technical support, United Illuminating, Medicare representatives, financial institutions, even Fairfield police in their efforts to steal money from local residents.
They’re finding success in some cases.
In one recent scam, a man purporting to be “Lt. Turner” from the Fairfield Police Department has called local homes and businesses, Lt. James Perez, an actual member of the force, said Monday.
“Turner” tells residents who answer that they were caught on red light cameras violating traffic laws, and must pay a fine (in this case $278.13) or be arrested.
State law does not yet allow traffic cameras to be used as an enforcement method in Connecticut.
When police called the number back, the voice on the other end answered, “Lt. Turner, Fairfield Police.”
The “lieutenant” hung up when told he was speaking with actual officers, Perez said.
Local businesses have received calls from people saying they represent UI, demanding immediate payment to keep the lights in.
In all the cases, Perez said, callers asked for payment in the form of “Green Dot” cards.
“Once the ID number is given to the scammer, they hang up,” Perez said. “It’s an instant transfer of money.”
Scam artists such as “Lt. Turner” (there is no such person on the Fairfield police force) work quickly to build the trust of their targets. In a recent case, the caller told a woman to stay on the phone with him as she drove to CVS to purchase a card to use as payment, so he could talk to any police officer who might pull her over and clear up any problems.
Businesses are receiving calls by someone claiming to be from UI, saying power will be shut off without an immediate payment.
Spic N Span Market, 329 Pequot Ave., called police on July 16, after receiving a call from a person purporting to be by “S. Martinez” from UI.
“We do not call customers directly,” said Aaliyah Miller, a communications specialist for UI. “We have a phone system service, like a robo-dial, that would call a customer if they were delinquent.”
UI also assigns sales representatives to businesses, so any contact would be from a familiar person.
Automated calls instruct customers to call back, and provide a number, Miller said.
Just as in the phony police officer scam, payment is requested through non-traceable cash cards.
“There’s no buying a card,” Miller said. “You make a payment through the account.”
Perez urged anyone who receives calls claiming to be from a utility to take a return number. If the caller is legitimate, that number will be confirmed when vetting the company through sources such as its website.
Likewise, Perez said, no agency on any level of government — federal, state or local — would initiate contact by phone or email with a resident. Representatives of the agencies would only reply to those who had first contacted them.
A 73-year-old Rodgers Road resident received a call from a person claiming to be from Medicare Monday, advising him that he needed a new card account.
The man gave the caller his routing number, police said.
Officers called the number from which the request originated, but a recorded message said it was not available. The man’s bank was asked by police to put the account on hold.
Perez urged adults with older parents to regularly talk to them, and make sure they are not sharing personal information with suspicious callers, who will work particularly hard to befriend seniors.
Other callers say they are from a technical support provider, detecting problems with a computer that they can fix remotely for a fee. Once they succeed in getting that money, another scammer — working with the first, but pretending to be another company — calls with a scam warning, and offers to fix the new “problem” for a larger fee, Perez said.
A Steward Hill Circle resident called police July 26 around 11:15 p.m. to report that at 2 p.m. on July 20, he received a call from a person claiming to be from Microsoft, claiming that numerous attempts to access his computer had been detected.
The caller, who the man said had an Indian accent, wanted $249 to fix the problem and claimed to represent “eGlobal Services.”
A Garden Drive resident reported harassment on July 26, around 2:20 p.m. After filling out an online loan application, but not submitting it, he began to receive calls from loan companies that continued even after he demanded they stop.
Perez said a woman received a call from someone purporting to be Chase claiming a $30,000 overrun on credit cards needed to be addressed.
“They will harass you over and over again until you succumb,” he said.
Scammers are using a legal source to pick targets, Perez said: The Carmel, N.Y.-based Direct Marketing Association, which mines data and sells contact list information.
One way to avoid scams is to opt off the list, he said. Contact information for the Direct Marketing Association can be found at thedma.org.
“Scammers are everywhere,” Perez said. “You need to be wise and smart enough to not become a victim.”