Phone Scams Skim Money From Locals

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The Payson Police Department wants to caution residents about an increase in telephone scams.

Payson Police Officer Joni Varga said a local couple lost $1,000 on a phone scam recently.

"The person who called them said he was an attorney and they won a $500,000 second-place prize in a Canadian lottery," Varga said. "He said that in order to secure the prize they needed to wire $1,000."

Varga said the couple believed the man because he knew a lot of personal information about them.

"Some people who are not familiar with computers don't realize how much information someone can get about them online," Varga said. "These scam artist are smart and spend all their time doing this."

The couple wired the money and a short time later received another call from the alleged attorney.

"This time, the man said that they had won first prize because the people who won did not claim it," Varga said. "He told them he needed them to wire more money."

The couple became suspicious and started asking questions.

"The caller got irritated that they were asking questions," Varga said. "Then he said he would be flying to Phoenix and driving up to Payson to pick up the money personally. That's when they called us about it."

Varga investigated the matter and passed the complaint on to the Arizona Attorney General's office.

"I found out from Western Union that the money went to Budapest," Varga said. "They generally won't investigate wire transfers unless they are more than $3,000. There is a disclaimer warning people on the bottom or the wire transfer form."

The Phoenix Police Department has seen a number of victims of the Canadian Lottery Scam, including a woman who lost $40,000 in the scam.

A story by the Associated Press said victims are often elderly.

"The scammer advises the person they have won a prize, but they will have to wire money to them in order to pay ‘important taxes' on the winnings," the article said. "The victim never receives the winnings and (Phoenix Police detectives) say the victim receives numerous follow-up calls from suspects claiming they need additional money for fees or unforeseen penalties."

Varga took another report from a woman who was immediately suspicious of a call she received about winning a sweepstakes.

After she refused her "winnings," a man, claiming to be in charge of the no-call list, phoned her a few minutes later. He said that if she wanted her name removed from the list, she'd have to provide her bank routing number located on the bottom of her checks.

Sgt. Rod Mamero said scam artists perfect their craft because it is their occupation.

"That's all they do all day," Mamero said. "If they only are successful once, it's a good day for them."

Varga said scammers typically ask for smaller amounts of money, knowing that victims may be less likely to report the crime while law enforcement is less likely to put much effort into an investigation.

To compound the problem, many scams originate in foreign countries, which makes prosecution a nightmare, Varga said.

Although local police officials can do little to remedy the situation, they are making the public aware of the latest scams through the media.

Anyone having information about the Canadian Lottery scam is asked to call the task force assembled to address this hoax at (888) 495-8501.

To report phone scams or any other fraudulent behavior, call the Arizona Attorney General's fraud division office at (602) 542-5763.

To report any kind of Internet fraud, visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

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