April 9 – Phone scams aimed at separating unsuspecting residents from their money are nothing new – they just target the Cullman area more frequently sometimes than others.
This week, an alleged phone scam involves calling local numbers under the guise of a well-known lottery name, though law enforcement says the bogus source is not the NI Clearinghouse. publisher – and the promise of earnings in exchange for personal information is false as well.
Fraudulent schemes involving the marketing company have become so common across the country that Publishers Clearing House has set up a fraud page on its website, advising anyone receiving a phone call claiming to represent the company to simply hang up.
The company “does not make or allow outbound calls to consumers to sell merchandise or magazines, or to solicit contest entries,” its fraud page explains. Our grand prize winners are notified by mail or in person (at our option) and we never call ahead to disclose that someone has won a major prize. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a Publishers Clearing House member asking you to send money, pay fees, or prepay taxes to enter, collect, or claim a raffle prize sort – STOP – you haven’t heard of the ‘real’ Publishers’ Clearing House. The call you received was most likely from a fraudulent sweepstakes scam operation.
Local law enforcement say phone scams come with a variety of false, albeit attractive, stories – some even playing on people’s sense of community as a deceptive way to gain access to their wallets. A local scam asks residents to contribute to the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, while another finds the caller posing as a law enforcement officer asking for money in return for permission of a completely fabricated pending mandate.
“When I talk to local groups and talk about phone scams, what I’m telling them is, one, you’ll never get anything for free, and two, never give out personal IDs to anyone. it’s over the phone: your name, date of birth, social security number, anything like that. And number three, never send money to anyone, especially when they ask you to. ‘go and put money on any type of prepaid card,’ says Sheriff Matt Gentry.
“We’re never going to call you from the sheriff’s office asking for money, and we’re never going to call and say we have a warrant for your arrest and you need to pay or wire money to the sheriff’s office. Every time you get a call like that, it’s a scam.”
Other scams invoke the power of the federal government to scare residents into cooperating. “The IRS, Social Security office or any other government agency will never threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay anything,” says Hanceville Police Chief Bob Long. “Never give your personal information or bank account number to someone who calls and says they represent the government.”
“The best advice I have,” says Gentry, “is that if you think it’s a scam, it probably is. If you have any questions about the legitimacy of a communication you you had, bring any notes or documents you have in connection with it to the sheriff’s office so we can verify if it’s real.”
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by phone at 256-734-2131 ext. 234.