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Phone scams on the rise, scammers use pshychology to find prey

A North Carolina police captain, Ann Stephens, went viral this week after she recorded answering a phone call from a scammer asking for personal information, including her Social Securtiy number, claiming she had serveral allegations against her, including money laundering and drug trafficking. The caller stated she was going to be arrested.
A North Carolina police captain, Ann Stephens, went viral this week after she recorded answering a phone call from a scammer asking for personal information, including her Social Securtiy number, claiming she had serveral allegations against her, including money laundering and drug trafficking. The caller stated she was going to be arrested.

Scams, either by phone, email or social media, have been plaguing consumers for years as scammers have found newer and more creative ways to try to swindle people of their money.

City of Washington Police Chief Jim Lester said the most common scam he hears about is the grandparent scam. The grandparent scam is when a scammer calls an individual, claiming to be their grandchild. They will offer just enough information to get the person who answered to believe them, Lester says.

The caller will generally have a story that they have been in an accident, have been arrested or are in another state and need financial assistance and request the money be sent by money card, prepaid card or Western Union.

“That is a common one,” he said. “We’re also seeing not only phone scams, we’re seeing social media scams; the catfishing.”

Catfishing, as it has been nicknamed, is the act of creating a fake social media account and pretending to be someone they are not. Lester said those who do not have their privacy settings set are easy victims because their photos can be easily taken and used on the fake account.

The fake account can then be used to lure the victim into a scheme, usually asking for money.

If someone encounters a scheme, or thinks they have, Lester said he would encourage them to contact law enforcement to let them know about the incident. However, once the person has given away their money, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get it back because a majority of these schemes are taking place oversees.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these are originated outside of the country and its very difficult, very unlikely, that a person would get their money returned to them,” he said.

It is hard to say why scammers choose this profession, but Nathan Hough, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mt. Pleasant, said it could have something to do with where they are located. Most scams tend to come out of foreign countries where the available work is hard labor. Phone scams are simple, take less time and they can make more money than hard labor jobs.

While most people think they would never fall for a scam, Hough said the brain is genetically wired to feed into emotional, and especially relational situations.

“My belief is that we are all relationship driven, its just that for some of us it’s more important and it’s a larger part of who we are. When you’re driven relationally, there’s a part of you that wants to do what you need to in order to improve the relationship, to keep that relationship in good standing,” he said.

This is especially true in schemes that involve parents, family or grandparents, and could be why they are most often targeted for these schemes. People who tend to be more willing to give, like parents or grandparents, or who have disposable incomes are often targeted.

The get rich quick schemes, like Publishers Clearing House, where the scammer tells the person they have won a set amount of money but first they must pay to get it, are often targeted at single parent households or newly retired people because the excitement of an added bonus of extra cash clouds the better judgment. Fear, also, can be a motivator in these schemes as well, which is why IRS schemes, where the caller tells the person their vehicle or home will be taken away, work so well.

“If you can provoke enough fear in someone, you will cause them to respond,” he said.

Earlier this week, a North Carolina police captain went viral after she posted a video of a scammer threatening to arrest her. In the video, Apex Police Capt. Ann Stephens, answered a phone call from a scammer asking for personal information, including her Social Securtiy number, claiming she had serveral allegations against her, including money laundering and drug trafficking. The caller stated she was going to be arrested.

Besides easy work, Hough stated some scammers do it for the satisfaction. A small percentage of the population will be motivated by tricking people while a bigger part are motivated by greed and the want for more money.

“They know it’s wrong. They know they are soliciting money that is illegal, they just don’t care,” he said. “They’re about getting as much money as they can.”

However, Fairfield Police Chief David Thomas said he is seeing less and less people losing money to scammers because of how well known they are.

“It seems like anymore everyone’s so paranoid, they’re just getting calls instead of people being out of money,” he said.

The most common scams he has seen are phone scams or identity theft scams. The robocalls, or automated phone calls, are on the rise, he said but seem to be at random.

A common scam in other counties, specifically with the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, has been scammers calling from a number that appears to be from the department, but is actually a scammer trying to receive money from a victim. Thomas said he has not seen this scam in Fairfield, but is aware it is happening and said scammers are using an ap to change their phone number and try to trick the victim.

Thomas and Lester both agreed that while these scammers are difficult to catch, informing the public is the number one way they are working to stop them.

“The best thing we can do is educate the community that these things exist and the old saying is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That holds true for these,” Lester said.