By Dan Guarino
Knowing scams are out here is one thing. But when it hits right here in Rockaway, that’s something else.
On April 18, local entrepreneur and hot yoga instructor Dana Humphrey went to the Chase Bank on Beach 116th Street to get something notarized. The banker who greeted her, she says, “asked me if I was in there ‘for fraud’ too?”
The bank, it turns out, was in the midst working to help their customers who had been the victims of “check washing,” where scammers steal checks, replace the amount and payee information and cash the now-faked checks themselves.
Humphrey was told that “just that morning they had had nine or so reports of fraud, people that had mailed checks through the local post office and then their bank accounts were wiped out completely.”
Frauds like this have affected many here, costing thousands. So, it is helpful to know what many are and how to avoid them. As 100th Precinct Community Affairs Officer PO Victor Boamah noted recently, “If you find out you are a victim, don’t hesitate to call 911 right away.” He also recommended signing up for automatic notifications with your bank which alerts you every time a check is presented for payment to help spot any suspicious activity. Switching to direct online bill payments is also a good option, he said.
Paying individuals and companies via popular money transfer apps may be quick and easy. But New York Community Bank (NYCB) advises, it pays to know who you are sending to first. “Think of paying with (services like) Zelle, it’s like handing over cash,” they said. “Once it’s been received, your money can’t be recovered.”
These are not the only cons costing Rockawayites their hard-earned money and their sanity. Money may or may not go hand in hand with romance but falling for one can cause you to lose the other and take your personal information with it.
Many residents may have received flirtatious emails, messages, or Facebook contacts that might just seem too good to be true. “Romance Scams,” according to the FBI, “occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites. (They) will seem genuine, caring, and believable.”
They may also present unusually attractive photos and profile details and claim to live far away and/or cannot immediately meet you for one reason or another. Once connected, they may ask for personal information, may request you to purchase gift cards to help with a “future visit” or ask for a “loan” to pay a supposedly urgent debt. Usually, those monies are never seen again, lost without hope of recovery.
A new cyber wrinkle to this old game, AARP says, is “the cryptocurrency-romance scam.” Scammers pose “as internet love interests so they can cajole their targets into downloading an app and investing in fake crypto accounts,” often claiming to put their own money into these “fool-proof” fake investments, while putting yours right into their own pockets.
The experts say, be careful what you share online. Scammers will use details found on social media and dating sites to target you. The FBI says, “Go slowly and ask lots of questions. Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly (via phone calls, WhatsApp, etc.) They may request inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you. If you have not met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious. Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.”
Recently, even requests for information for this article on social media drew potential scammers offering contacts who, once you gave them your information, of course, promised they would definitely help get stolen funds back. Bill Gelhaus, administrator of Friends of Rockaway Beach’s Facebook page noted “The first three people who responded are scammers. Running FORB, you get a sense of these people.” Sure enough, all three showed a single profile photo and nothing else.
Likewise, beware of email or text messages stating, “Someone may have run a background check on you” or “Your account is about to be frozen; you will lose all your contacts,” “This is the second attempt to deliver your package,” “Your payment is about to go out,” “Here are the documents you requested,” or “You’ve won a prize!” All are designed to rush you into clicking on a dangerous website/link and/or giving up your personal invitation.
Another con that resident Scott Ruscillo, of Scott’s Computer Repair, often deals with is “Tech Support Scams.” Here, a flashing screen announces a “major” computer problem and gives a number to call or a phony tech support caller reports finding a “serious issue,” all to get access to your computer.
“The most common calls say they’re from Microsoft, then McAfee or Norton. They say there’s no cost for them to have a look. Then, they ‘find’ a problem, but it will cost you to fix it. You pay them and they have your money and now your credit card or bank information. I see it all the time, especially with older people getting screwed over. Never, never give anyone access to your system.” He also cautions that many support numbers are fakes. “Call a trusted source, like Best Buy, or me, to get legitimate company service numbers. We never charge for information or giving advice.”
As NYCB notes, “The scammers goal is to trick you before you realize it’s a scam.”
If it happens to you, break contact, then call your bank, credit cards, the police, etc. But before that happens, be aware, be alert Rockaway, so you can see them coming long before they see you.
Photo by Dan Guarino