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Thieves find targets in new ways

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Scammers exploit advertisers, collection agencies

By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

Tax season makes most people focus on money more than they do at other times of the year.

This spring in Caldwell County, reports are surfacing that thieves and scammers are doing the same, learning new ways to forge checks, collect information and prey on custome

rs who use the Internet for convenience.

Two weeks ago, Lockhart resident Sam St. Clair received a letter claiming to be from Tampa Green Consultants, in Tampa, Florida. The letter said St. Clair was the winner of a “customer appreciation drawing for all customers of major stores in U.S. and Canada, e.g. J.C. Penny, Walgreen”s Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Kmart, Best Buy, etc.”

He was told he had won a sum of $125,000, which would be delivered via Federal Express after he paid taxes on the winning in the amount of $2,980 via Western Union to a “government tax agent.”

A check was enclosed with the letter, sufficient to cover the “taxes,” and leaving St. Clair a $1,000 taste of his winnings.

The check was allegedly issued by “Quad Int”l Incorporated, DBA The Score Group,” out of Miami, and drawn off the City National Bank of Florida, also in Miami.

The letter itself, carries a postmark from Canada.

The check was a forgery and the letter was a scam. St. Clair, knowing the dangers of such scams, opted to check it things out before cashing his check, sending the money transfer and counting his winnings. Although he was saved from the pain of being robbed, St. Clair came forward with the check after discussing it with his bank, saying he was almost taken in by the scam, not because of the content of the letter, but because the forgery of the check was so good.

In the same week, a customer of a Central Texas newspaper received a call that the newspaper”s computer system had crashed and the customer”s credit card information had been lost. The caller asked the customer, a regular poster of print and online classified ads, to read their credit card information over the phone.

The individual gave the information, and by the time he called the newspaper to check, his credit card had already been used several times. The customer had recently run a classified ad which not only published in the newspaper, but was published on the publication”s website. It is suspected the caller got the telephone number from the Internet.

Dana Garrett, publisher of the Lockhart Post-Register, expressed concern when he heard about the scam which, although it did not happen to one of his advertisers, he fears could.

“This is a new and clever scam idea,” Garrett said. “And there isn”t much we can do about it apart from helping our customers to protect themselves.”

Garrett said under no circumstances would the Lockhart Post-Register hire a third party or outside source to gather payment information from advertisers and encouraged anyone receiving such a call to take the information from the caller and contact the Post-Register prior to releasing any information.

“We strive to protect our customers” financial information, as well as their privacy,” he said. “In the event we do have to call a customer for that information, those calls will come from our office, during regular business hours, or from a staff member with whom our advertisers are familiar. If you are ever contacted by someone claiming to be performing collections or information gathering for the Post-Register, we want you to call us, if you have any concerns before you give out any information. And if the caller does not address you by name and give you the option to come in and meet with us face to face to make a payment or to share your information – that caller is not contacting you on our behalf.”

A third scam that surfaced this week involves a caller claiming to be from the Texas Department of Transportation, collecting overdue fees and fines on behalf of TxTag.

This reporter recently received a call at her place of business requesting payment on an overdue TxTag account. The account had been paid, via the Internet, within days of the call.

A call to a TxDOT representative revealed the agency does, occasionally, use outside sources for collection and that the possibility of this scam, while it had not been documented, was certainly possible.

He, too, advised customers receiving such calls to contact the agency directly, rather than giving valuable credit card or banking information over the phone.

“Our customer service department can, and should, handle these things,” the representative said. “I”d suggest, if you are concerned about a call from someone claiming to be a collection agency, you contact customer service and see if your account has been transferred to collections before you make payment.”

These are only three of a litany of scams coming to light as business becomes less and less personal and is handled more through telephone, online and third-party collection sources. A vendor genuinely collecting a debt should be willing to discuss with callers the nature of the collection, in what manner the debt was accrued and various options for payment. Any caller adamant about collecting bank account or credit card information immediately, should be treated with caution.

If you suspect illegal activity, you should report it to the local authorities immediately, not only so the potential crime can be investigated, but so records can be kept of scams which change and adapt as quickly as law enforcement can gather and release information to protect law abiding citizens.

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