Seasonal scams enter digital world

CRYSTAL LAKE – The seemingly friendly face at the front door pointing out the need to fix a cracked driveway or repair a damaged roof just looking to pull off a quick scam has been replaced.

While the old summer scams still exist, local law enforcement said faceless threats have become much more prevalent and seniors are the target. McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy Aimee Knop and Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said the “grandparent scam” has been on the rise in the county and is done exclusively over the phone or Internet.

Knop said, in many cases, a person will call a senior and pose as a relative or grandchild. The person will mention how they are away on vacation and need money for an emergency. With the rise of social media, would-be scammers are able to easily find the names of relatives and when people are on vacation because of status updates and photographs.

“With the Internet, our personal information is everywhere so it is very easy to get,” Knop said. “When you take pictures that show you’re on vacation or just celebrated Grandma’s birthday, it airs everything [scammers] need.”

Zinke said the sheriff’s office is always working on reaching out to the community about potential scams and ways to avoid them. But, he said, the “grandparent scams” pose a different set of challenges from the in-person soliciting scams common after storms.

Because everything is done over the phone or computer, it can be difficult to track offenders might be located out of the state or country, in some cases, he said. As police and residents become more aware of cyber crime, it becomes easier to identify and prevent, he said.

“People that started learning on computers 20 years [ago] are starting to get to that
senior-citizen age,” Zinke said. “There is a growing group of sophisticated computer users getting older, and that is going to help.”

Even with the technology scams on the rise, officials from the Better Business Bureau warn not to become complacent when identifying in-person scams.

According to the Better Business Bureau, one of the most common summer scams have been bogus 5K events where pre-registration fees are not refunded after “organizers” cancel the event days before its scheduled.

Other common scams include phony concert tickets, fake travel packages, unlicensed movers and nonexistent seasonal jobs designed to get personal information on applications.

“When something doesn’t feel right to you, the best thing to do is listen to your gut feeling, as it seldom steers you wrong,” said Steve Bernas, president of the Better Business Bureau for Chicago and northern Illinois.

Knop and Zinke said good prevention tips include never giving out personal information over the phone, verifying with family if someone claims to be a relative and understanding agencies such as the IRS never call a personal residence.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office also holds quarterly scam prevention meetings. Anyone who thinks they have been scammed or were targeted should report it to local law enforcement, Knop said.

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