Scams of all Types are Making Rounds in North Carolina

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From sweepstakes phone scams and Nigerian letters, to identity theft and preying on senior citizen's fears, fraud of all kinds has reached new heights. The people of Rowan County, North Carolina have had enough and they are informing residents about protective measures.

The dream of winning large amounts of money is often a deterrent to thinking objectively and criminals are aware of this fact. For people like Hazek Erwin of Salisbury, NC, receiving a check in the mail from Publishers Clearing House for $325,000 seemed like a dream come true. She had entered the sweepstakes for several years now hoping to become a winner. Though it sounded too good to be true at the time, she could not help but research it.

"I thought, 'Oh my God!' " Hazek said. "Then I got to reading the letter and everything, got to looking at it more closely, and it wasn't really the print of Publisher's Clearing House... I knew it was probably a scam."

She decided to call the claims agent who was listed on the letter to see what was required to claim her winnings. She heard a message accompanied by music... "Welcome to Publisher's Clearing House". At once a man answered the phone. The man put Hazek on hold. Once he came back on the line, she heard people talking in the background and it sounded to her like the caller was someone in their home. He hung up the phone after the noise started. She tried to call back but there was no answer.

"Once I called that number, that was a dead giveaway there," she said.

Ever heard of these popular scams?

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper recognized how scams have evolved over the last 40 years. In the 1970's the Nigerian letter scams were incredibly popular stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims. The letters evolved to phone scams and now continue through email. It's a never ending battle between good and evil.

In Rowan, NC, the two most popular scams are Nigerian letters and door to door "home repairmen". According to Cooper, the Nigerian letters are losing popularity because they have been around for a long time and people are more aware of the scam. The Nigerian letters state that "someone is trying to move money out of the country and needs help doing it. What they're really after is your bank account number, and to get you to wire money to them," he said.

The sad statistic is that North Carolinians are still falling prey to these Nigerian letter scams which are now evolving to faxes and emails. "They're able to send out hundreds of thousands of these at a time, and it only takes a few people to bite for them to be successful," Cooper said.

Cooper reports that in the past year one person lost $205,000 and another $40,000 to phony oil tycoons. Victims believe the nice people on the phone when they call. Cooper reports that the "sweetheart scam" is the latest update to the Nigerian scam. The criminals pretend to really like the victims (seniors are targeted) and they begin to develop relationships. The criminals pose as wealthy oil tycoons located in exotic countries. Once a relationship has formed and the criminals have earned trust, they will fake a medical illness or being sent to prison, at which time they will ask for money to be wired and fast.

Cooper says. "This is why we tell people not to respond to these letters in any way. Some people are curious and want to know what the next steps are. But don't do it -- you just don't want to get that information out there."

Authorities are urging potential victims to understand how scams start and to be aware at all times. Salisbury Police Detective Brent Hall is a specialist in these types of scams and receives several reports on a weekly basis.

The Home Repair Scam

Hall reports on a second crime attacking the residents of Rowan County, NC. It is known as the "home repair" scam. The criminals contact potential victims promising to repair their roofs or driveways or to cut down trees, etc. for a better price than the competition. The only caveat is they ask for the payment upfront before the work is completed.

"No business should ask you to pay up front," Hall said. "Someone coming to work on trees or the roof, ask them to leave a card and you'll get in touch at a later time. Then go to the Better Business Bureau and see how their companies are rated and if anyone's reported them."

Some criminals will appear to do some work, but they usually do a horrible job and charge above the market rate. Others will claim your property needs repairs when in fact it is in perfect condition.

Authorities are urging Rowan County residents to only contact established companies and verify the businesses with the Better Business Bureau. Reputable companies will not ask you to give them all the money upfront. If a reputable business contacts you soliciting their services, they should offer their card and leave you alone.

Rowan County residents are getting smarter as their awareness heightens. Letter, email and phone scams are very common, especially with senior citizens. Educate the people you love about the dangers of these types of scams. Always stay alert because you never know when one is headed your way.