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Friday, August 9, 2013

Beware of scammers seeking personal information

There are several kinds of scams going on around here, involving phony utility and IRS personnel, warns Pfc. Brendan Murphy, the crime prevention officer at the Mason Police District.

According to an email alert from Murphy, there has been an increase in complaints involving residents who have received emails or phone calls stating their utilities or phone/internet service will be immediately shut off unless payment is made via prepaid credit card or an online form that asks for personal banking information.

“Both of these options are never standard for companies and should you receive one, please call and check with the customer service number from your bill/invoice,” Murphy says. “Don’t call a number provided by the ‘scammer.’ Also be wary of utility personnel coming to your home for unscheduled repairs or maintenance checks.”

A recent scam under investigation by the Reston Police District involved a couple bilked out of thousands of dollars by an unknown suspect claiming to be affiliated with the Internal Revenue Service. The caller also claimed to be holding a family member in exchange for numbers associated with prepaid money cards in the victim’s possession. The victim relinquished information from the cards and the money was gone. No family member was actually held against their will.

“In general, if anyone, except a legitimate business, asks for your card numbers, it could be a scam,” Murphy says. “Avoid using money card numbers if someone contacts you regarding prize winnings or sweepstakes, and do not use card numbers to purchase something from a classified advertisement. Do not give your card numbers to another person, unless you are absolutely certain of their credibility.”

“In most cases, the money lost from this type of scam is not insured, so when it is gone, it is gone,” he says.

In another recent scam, already reported here, there were at two incidents in Mason District where someone claiming to be from Fairfax Water attempted to enter residents’ homes. In one incident, a man with a clipboard convinced a woman on Annandale Street that he needed to check something at the back of her house. While they were there, someone else entered the house and stole money from the woman’s purse. In the other incident, the potential victim refused to let the imposter into her house.

Police urge residents to be vigilant and ask all visitors to show identification before allowing them onto their property. If they claim to be from Fairfax Water, call 703-698-5800 to verify.

Fairfax Water employees do not receive or accept any form of payments during service calls, do not collect water-service fees door-to-door, and do not need to get inside a home to read a meter.

If you think someone is trying to scam you, report it to the police immediately. If you see a suspicious person in your neighborhood or receive a suspicious phone or email, call the police non-emergency number, 703-691-2131.

An alert from the McLean Police District warns residents about a regional scam that involves fraudulent financial interactions taking place in public parking lots.

On Aug. 5, a 30-year-old man was approached in a parking lot at the Home Depot in Seven Corners area at around 3 p.m. The suspect asked the victim for a ride to Washington, D.C., and showed him large amounts of cash.

The victim agreed and they engaged in lengthy discussions during the drive. The suspect convinced the suspect to withdraw money from an ATM and following a conversation about the safety of U.S. banking institutions and “trust,” the suspect walked away with $9,000 that the victim had given him.

The following day, a 68-year-old man was approached by two men in the parking lot of the Home Depot in Merrifield at around 3 p.m. The man asked for help and directions. As the conversation continued, the victim eventually was convinced to withdraw a large sum of money from a bank and hand it over. 

In both of those cases, the suspects are described as black with a Jamaican or heavy foreign accents and ranging in age from the 40s to 60s.

Here are some more tips to avoid being scammed:

•    If someone claims to be from Dominion, do not give any personal information over the phone or to someone that knocks on your door. Hang up and call the Dominion customer service number on your utility bill (866-DOM-HELP or 866-366-4357).
•    Never provide your Social Security number, credit card number, or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident about the person with whom you are speaking.
•    Always pay your bills with your own personal information; never pay your bills with information that is not your own.
•    Beware of the door-to-door sales approach. Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes, or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Always ask utility employees for proper identification.

•    If you have already provided information to someone claiming to offer a service, contact your bank immediately. Also contact the three national credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—and have a notation made on your account so it doesn’t hurt your credit rating.

•    Share this information with friends and family so they do not become victims. Elderly victims are common in this type of scam, but anyone who pays a utility bill is a potential target.

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