Letters to the Editor

Be Wise to Scam Artists

Editor's note: The following editorial was published Thursday in the Florence Morning News.

It seems new scams are created every day, and it seems they all make their way to the Pee Dee at some point.

Most recently, several Florence residents recently received text messages on their cell phones indicating their Health Facilities Federal Credit Union had been deactivated. The messages asked for account information despite the fact that many of the people who received calls do not have accounts with Health Facilities Federal Credit Union.

A Florence Bank of America customer also reported receiving phishing e-mails about her account with the bank. While Bank of America officials acknowledged some of their customers have received phishing e-mails, they also said they have confidential procedures in place to prevent, detect and alleviate identity theft.

Last week, a Timmonsville woman came forward as one of many victims of a nationwide check scam involving a fake sweepstakes. She contacted the 12th Circuit Solicitor's Office after receiving two apparently legitimate, but fake, checks: one from a nonexistent company and the other supposedly from the New York City Comptroller's Office.

It's frustrating to report on these crimes because it's difficult to keep up with every scam out there, we can't help but feel badly for the victims and, no matter how many times people hear the adage, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," the message doesn't sink in.

The website www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com, which is designed to help protect people from becoming the a victim of an Internet fraud scheme, points out that fraud is a crime in which people decide whether to participate. Hanging up the phone or opting not to respond to shady mailings or e-mails make it difficult for a scam artist to commit fraud.

If an apparent scam mentions your bank and/or credit card companies, contact them directly to see if any fraudulent transactions have shown up and to arrange for new cards or accounts, if necessary, www.fightidentitytheft.com recommends.

If you only saw a scam and want to report it, Fight Identity Theft recommends that you contact the company involved in the scam immediately and consider forwarding the e-mail to spam@uce.gov. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission will place your e-mail in a database and use the combined information to track down and prosecute the scammer/spammers. You can also report the scam to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center. This site is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

The FBI warns people to be skeptical of others representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials asking for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts. The federal agency lists common scams and ways to avoid them at www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/fraudschemes.htm#imperson.

The website for Fraud Aid Inc., a nonprofit fraud victim advocacy organization (www.fraudaid.com/index.htm), also reminds people that they cannot win a lottery they didn't enter -- period. The site also cites the federal statute that makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to enter foreign lotteries.

If you should receive a check or money order from any source that you don't know to be legitimate, don't cash or deposit them, Fraud Aid Inc. cautions. They are likely stolen, forged or counterfeit and you could lose money or even go to jail for taking them to the bank or a check cashing facility. The site recommends that anyone who receives these documents write VOID across the front and take them and the envelope in which they arrived to law enforcement officers.

Yes, it's unfortunate that scam artists exist to prey on others, but a little common sense can go a long way toward thwarting them. Twelfth Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements III said everyone should remember a basic rule when it comes to free money: "If somebody's gonna give you something for nothing, they're fooling you."