As the holidays approach, with gift and present exchanges so much a part of the season, many people find themselves caught up in the spirit of giving.
That altruism, which is so much a part of this time of year, the Bourne Police Department warns, is precisely what some scam artists prey upon. The department cautions residents not to be fooled, particularly by people pretending to be representing the local police.
A recent post at the Bourne Police Department Facebook page noted that some residents reported receiving telephone calls from someone who claimed to be collecting money for either the Bourne Police Department Defense Fund or the department’s Police Fund. Bourne Police Lieutenant Brandon M. Esip said whoever the caller was does not represent the department.
“If it says Bourne Police is calling you on the caller ID, and they’re asking for money, it’s not us,” Lt. Esip said. “We do not solicit money for the police department, and we don’t authorize anyone else to solicit on the police department’s behalf.”
The lieutenant said these types of phone calls occur year-round but particularly this time of year when people are particularly susceptible to getting scammed.
“The holiday season is very prevalent for this because people are in a giving mood,” he said. “They call the elderly, people who have donated to other causes in the past. They even have call lists available to them.”
Lt. Esip said that the popularity of the department’s Facebook page, which has nearly 78,000 followers, can actually provide scammers with a way in which to perpetuate their scheme. The scammer may count on the support of the community, as seen by the high number of Facebook followers, and mention the Bourne police during the call, he said.
“If the community supports,” he said, “they’re more likely to donate.”
Scam artists are known to tug at people’s heartstrings and play on their sympathy for the police, Lt. Esip said. He noted that a caller might mention a police officer who recently died, perhaps killed in the line of duty, and urge the victim to donate money “to help protect police officers.”
Lt. Esip said that, in some cases, the caller may be from a legitimate agency, but any such agency has not been authorized to use the Bourne department’s name in their solicitation. He added that many of these agencies keep the lion’s share of the donation to cover administrative and operational costs.
“In most cases, the majority of the money they pull in doesn’t go back to the cause,” he said. “It might be a 70-30 split, and 70 percent goes to the (company).”
The phone scammers are not just masquerading as representatives of charities or fundraising organizations, the lieutenant said. Some pretend to be from either a law enforcement agency or a collection company. They demand money in order to settle a legal issue or an overdue bill, he said.
One of the more prevalent scams involves a caller claiming to be from either the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The caller will say there is a criminal matter that needs to be resolved right away with payment of a certain amount of money. If not, police will be called and an arrest made. Not so, Lt. Esip said.
“The department is not coming to your house,” he said. “If you owe money to the IRS, they’re not calling you and saying pay us in Green Dot cards.”
Bourne Police Chief Dennis R. Woodside said that the same types of phone scams seem to come up throughout the year. He also mentioned the IRS scheme.
Another scheme, the chief said, is someone claiming to be a relative who has been arrested in a foreign country. The caller will say that money is needed to get out of jail.
“They prey on people, try it 100 times,” he said. “If they get one person, that’s a winner for these people.”
The chief said he is amazed by the type of individual who winds up getting scammed. Some, he said, are “smart, well-educated, working people” who are more likely to step in and prevent a friend from falling for the scam. Often, he said, it happens to people “you wouldn’t think it would happen to.”
“Sometimes they get the right person at the right time of their life,” he said, “and they’re susceptible to it when on a normal day they wouldn’t be.”
The department’s Facebook post noted one scam in which someone called and claimed to be from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office looking for money to settle a court matter. Another scam involved someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency. That caller requested a Social Security number and Best Buy gift cards.
Lt. Esip also warned of an electrical company scam in which people are told to pay a certain amount of money or their electricity will be shut off. A business owner will get such a call on a Friday and pay, fearing the loss of business for the coming weekend due to no electricity.
“Now [that] they have you on the hook,” Lt. Esip said, the scammers will say, “‘We need another thousand dollars to clear the matter. We need another $1,500.’ Now they know that you’re willing to pay.”
The lieutenant had two words of advice for residents who get a phone call requesting or demanding money: hang up.
A legitimate organization, he said, will go through proper procedures. For instance, a criminal matter will be handled in court. If someone claims to be from a business like Home Depot demanding money to settle an overdue bill, hang up, grab a bill and call the number on the bill.
“People shouldn’t be pressured into doing something right away,” he said. “If somebody’s calling you and saying, ‘I need payment now or else,’ something’s not right with that.”
Fundraisers or charities should be researched online to determine if they are legitimate and how much of a donation goes to the cause, he said. He suggested looking the organization up at the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
As for the use of the Bourne Police Department’s name and reputation in the recently reported phone scam, Lt. Esip said he took particular exception to that hoax.
“I don’t think anyone likes having their good name, whether it’s a business or an individual, as a reason to scam people out of money,” he said.