Police report scams targeting students, adults in Oxford

By Peyton Gigante

If you get a call from an unknown number, a sketchy email, or are getting weird requests over social media, you should beware—especially if somebody asks for money or your social security number.

Telecommunications fraud is one of the most common forms of “catfishing” —a deceptive way of targeting a person for abuse, deception or fraud. Whether it is someone pretending to be your boss, a bank, or in some cases a family member, you should never buy into it.

In the last month, two police reports were filed in Oxford because of telecommunications fraud.

On Sept. 7, Oxford Police responded to a call about a case that targeted an international student at Miami with an Instagram message telling her that “her identity was at risk,” according to the police report.

A report from Sept. 23, described a homeowner who reported continuous calls to her residential telephone number telling her that she owed taxes and that her identity was at risk.

In the first case, the victim was so panicked about the consequences of identity theft that she followed the directions of buying $2,700 worth of Google gift cards and then sending images of the cards and their PIN numbers in an Instagram message to the scammer, who had said he could prevent identity theft.

In the second case, the homeowner hung up on the caller and immediately called the police.

Officer Julia Huff met with the student who was scammed by the Instagram message, and happened to be with her when a man, presumably the scammer, contacted the victim again, this time by telephone.

“I briefly spoke to a male on the victim’s phone who called her as I was speaking with her,” said Huff. “I can’t say for certain that it was the scammer, because I had no way of knowing at that time if he was the same person who had initiated the conversation with her on Instagram. Once I called him out on scamming this female and identified myself as a police officer, he hung up.”

Approaches and victims can vary

Not all such scams target the same type of victims, according to police. Some may target students, some the elderly and some are random.

The Ohio Attorney General’s website, has pages dedicated to what to do when involved in a scamming situation. For instance, “Elder Fraud,” is a long, detailed page, that can help identify when something fraudulent is taking place.

Some of the most common scams involve advance fee loans, computer repairs, credit repair, home foreclosures, claims of delinquent taxes and phony charities. One of the most unnerving of these scams listed by the attorney general is a thing called “grandparent scams.” In this fraud someone calls an elderly person and pretends to be a young adult grandchild in distress, perhaps claiming they are stuck in another country and need to be wired some money so that they can get home or get out of whatever “jam” they are in. The criminals count on grandparents not necessarily knowing where their grandchildren are or being able to recognize their voices on the telephone. Attorney General David Yost’s office recommends that if you get such a call, you ask the caller a question that only a real family member would be able to answer.

Typically, when a scam is sweeping Ohio, Yost will put out a news release to warn citizens of the scams that are going on. In October of 2018, for instance, the office warned consumers to “beware of lottery and sweepstakes scams.”

“The biggest piece of advice is to simply not pick up the phone when it’s a number you don’t recognize,” said Dominic A. Binkley, public information officer for the attorney general’s office. “Even if it appears to be from a legitimate source. For example, caller ID may say ‘IRS,’ but it is likely not them. There are many red flags that people can spot to realize they’re part of a scam.”

The Attorney General’s website has a pamphlet with a checklist that can ensure you have all of the information on determining if something is a scam or not.

“Prevention is always the best way to approach being a victim of fraud,” said Officer Huff. One of the first things that police officers use and recommend, is to err on the side of privacy. “Password protect your phones, social media, emails. Be wary of who you let follow you on social media.”

And as far as protecting your money, make sure to not give in to sending money to these scammers or somehow allowing scanners access to your bank account.

“Keeping track of your credit report also helps you figure out if you truly have any debts or if you have any accounts in collection,” said Huff. “If someone is telling you that you owe them money but it doesn’t align with what you are seeing on your credit report, you might want to proceed with caution. Be careful of giving too much personal information over the phone or online.”

Trust your own judgment

When confronted with something that seems like a scam, always trust your own judgment. Do your own research, find out for yourself how the company in question takes payment, and Google the phone number that the call is coming from.

“With these kinds of scams, you have to stay ahead of them, and have that suspicion at the forefront of your mind when something is unfair to you,” says Lt. Lara Fening of the Oxford Police.

Be cautious about who you are giving information to, what questions you are answering via phone calls to automated systems, and what emails you’re responding to. Even Miami University students and faculty are falling victim to this, as fraudulent emails and data hacks have emerged since the school year started.

“We have had more email scams than phone scams this year,” says Claire Wagner, director of news and public information for Miami. “One came from a fake ‘Dr. Crawford’ (as in Miami President Gregory Crawford) in April, as well as June, and another from the ‘library’ in July.”

The fake emails addressed to students and faculty from “President Crawford,” are typically addressed on MyMiami, where IT and the school try to clear up any false information being spread.

“We always put out a little bit of general advice and information when one of these scams come out,” Wagner said.  “We usually have these four or five times a year, but we’ve already had five since the spring.”

For more tips on how to find and recognize a scam, or check and see if you have been scammed, you can visit the Ohio Attorney General’s website for more information.