Phone scammers are targeting Sanpete County residents
By Robert Stevens
Manti—Residents of Sanpete County may be being specifically targeted for telephone-based scams.
Janet McFarland, CentraCom customer service and billing manager, says she has had firsthand experience with the damage the scams are causing.
“These people who get scammed are very embarrassed,” McFarland said. “There are probably many who never come forward. This has happened repeatedly in a short amount of time. They are targeting our area right now.”
McFarland says the company is experiencing a rise in scam activity that gets reported to them by their customers, or by actual contact made with scammers by CentraCom workers.
“The people that are scamming our customers are actually calling into our office and pretending to be them, with personal information they stole,” McFarland said.
McFarland explained to the Messenger that the scammer makes contact with CentraCom, or whoever provides phone service to the victim, and attempts to change the victim’s phone number so that the victim does not become aware that their identity is being stolen.
The process begins with a phone call to the victim. The scammer might tell the victim that he or she was the winner of a large cash prize. The scammer says they will be in touch soon to deliver the prize and the phone call ends, victim elated.
The next day, McFarland says, the victim will get another call from the same group of scammers, but this time, they pretend to be the IRS and since the victim just won cash, they need him or her to give them personal information, such as a birth dates, social security number, address, bank account numbers, etc.
Sometimes, scammers even ask for the taxes in advance on the made-up contest prize, and McFarland says more people than you might think fall for it and send a check out which, in addition to the money, then gives the scammers the victim’s bank account info, if they hadn’t gotten that already.
Once the scammer has all that sensitive personal information, he or she will try to take out a fraudulent credit account and begin spending on it, McFarland says. And if the scammer is able to change the phone number listing for their victim with the aid of their ill-gotten info, the credit card company is unable to inform the victim about the missed payments that go hand in hand with credit card fraud.
McFarland says CentraCom customers have also reported scammers pretending to be a law enforcement agency, such as the FBI, and demanding personal information while making threatening claims of possible criminal charges.
“It’s very common for scammers to threaten arrest or charges if they don’t get the information they’re asking for,” McFarland says.
McFarland told the Messenger she thinks Sanpete County could possibly be targeted for scams like these because there are a lot of elderly citizens and trusting people in Sanpete.
“We just had another lady call in today about it,” McFarland said. “She didn’t fall for it, but she contacted the police too and found out there was a post office box set up fraudulently under her name.
Laura Dahl told the Messenger they have gotten reports of strange calls at Manti Telephone Company.
“A while back, we repeatedly had several scammers call pretending to be a customer in Ephraim who they had successfully talked into giving up some personal information,” Dahl said. “All the calls were coming in from Jamaica but several different people called trying to convince us they were this same man.”
Dahl said that although the scammers were calling with personal information to try and convince Manti Telco employees that they were the genuine article, company policy of using a secret question for verifying authenticity before any change can be made to the account prevented the scammers from accomplishing the number change.
Chances of a scammer successfully changing a number might be even smaller in the Gunnison Valley, according to Jim Sanders, Gunnison Telephone Company (Gtelco) office manager.
Sanders said that scams have not been an issue in the Gunnison Valley but that Gtelco has a policy in place that would make things difficult for anyone trying to change a number fraudulently.
“We know all our customers pretty well,” Sanders said. “In fact, we know most of our customers by voice, but no matter how much personal information you have to offer us, if someone wants the phone number on their account changed, we require they come into our office in person to accomplish that.”
CentraCom has begun this practice as well in an effort to minimize the impact scammers can have on their customers.
Whether or not scammers succeed in changing telephone numbers does not mean they still cannot cause financial detriment; the victim would just find out sooner if the phone number remained unchanged.
No matter where the fraud is happening, or to what degree, McFarland says she is frustrated with its increasing prevalence and wants to spread word about the danger.
“These people have worked hard their whole lives and to just have that taken away from them is awful,” McFarland said. “Older people deserve to enjoy their golden years and the fact that this is happening is horrific. If we get enough people involved in this, someone might do something about it.”
Bob Bingham, chief of police in Fairview, has responded to quite a few of these incidents, he says.
“These people are mostly elderly and once someone has the right information they can drain your bank account,” Bingham said. “That can be devastating to someone on a fixed income.”
Bingham explained how victims fall for the scam.
“A lot of them think, ‘Maybe I really won’, and so they go along with it,” he said. “Some of them get threatened, so they are scared. Much of the time these scammers are calling from foreign countries, so we are very limited to how we can pursue them.”
Bingham said it’s important to remember that, if you didn’t specifically enter a contest, you probably are not going to win one.
And if someone calls and threatens you with mysterious charges, don’t buy into it. The real FBI would always come in person.