Scams: They do happen here

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Ed Walston had just gotten home from teaching his class at Vincennes University Jasper Campus Sept. 18 when a pickup pulled into the driveway of his Kyana home. A guy leaned out of the truck and said they had some extra asphalt from a nearby job and asked if Walston wanted them to put it on his driveway. He said, “No.”

“That just seemed to me it might be a scam,” he said.

Just this week, Kathy Johannemann of Ferdinand was with her mother-in-law when the elder woman’s cellphone rang. Johannemann answered, and the man on the other end of the line said, “Hi, Grandma.” When Johannemann asked who it was, the man said he was her oldest grandson. The man hung up when Johannemann pressed him further.

Both Johannemann and Walston’s experiences are examples of common scams people fall victim to every day.

Walston’s story is an example of a construction scam. In his case, Walston said, he told the man no and promptly called the Dubois County Sheriff’s Office. Later, while Walston was out driving, he saw the same truck at another home and placed another call to the sheriff. The Sheriff’s Office said officers went to the area. Sgt. Stuart Wilson said the truck was gone by the time the police got there, but the police did determine that the men were misrepresenting themselves.

“They were not who they said they were,” Wilson said.

If someone offers unsolicited home improvement service, Wilson advised people to say they’re not interested. And if you’re looking to have work done, go with a local company that’s known and trusted.

“We always tell people go with someone you know or someone someone else has trusted,” Wilson said. “If you do that, you’ll probably be OK.”

Wilson also noted that reputable contractors don’t have extra materials that they offer unsolicited. If someone is doing that, it’s a red flag for home improvement fraud.

Johannemann’s story is also an example of a common scam called “the grandparent scam” or “the emergency scam.” In this scam, an unknown caller will claim to be a loved one — often a grandchild — in an emergency and request money. The request can come in the form of requesting bank or credit card numbers or telling the person to purchase gift cards and read the numbers over the phone. The biggest safeguard with this kind of scam is not to share any financial information.

“Once they give that information, that money is gone,” Wilson said, adding that it will likely not be recovered.

Wilson said the sheriff’s office frequently gets calls from people reporting either attempted scams or that they fell victim to a scam. As long as they haven’t given any of their personal information out, Wilson said, officers tell them not to worry.

If they have given their personal information, Wilson said officers may decide to file a report, but there is likely very little that the local police can do. Often, the criminals running the scams are not in Dubois County — or even the country — and they aren’t using real telephone numbers.

“That’s part of what makes them so difficult [for law enforcement] and so productive for the people doing it,” Wilson said.

Fortunately, neither Walston or Johannemann fell for the scams attempted on them, but many people do. In Johannemann’s case, that wasn’t the first time her mother-in-law had received a call, and although so far she hadn’t responded to the scam, Johannemann knows of others who have.

“I just hate that for older people,” Johannemann said. “You want to help your grandkids every time, or anyone in your family for that matter.”

For anyone who has fallen victim to a scam, the Better Business Bureau has resources and a reporting system available on its website, as well as research on common scams and advice for how to avoid them. The Tri-State Better Business Bureau, located in Evansville, covers Dubois County and is active in tracking scams locally and educating consumers. Visit their website here.

Victims will also need to call their financial institutions.

Wilson also encourages people to call the non-emergency number for their local law enforcement. Although officers usually can’t do a lot to stop the scam or restore lost funds, they can direct callers to federal bureaus and agencies that respond to scams and fraud.

“They can always call us and seek our advice,” Wilson said. “Or if you just don’t know — something just doesn’t seem right — call us and ask.”




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