LAMPASAS — About a week ago, Shirley Beyer received a strange phone call. Glancing quickly at her caller ID, she saw the word “private.”
“A man said he was from the security office and had heard there was a lot of fraud in the area, and that my Visa card was OK, but he needed to verify the expiration date,” said Beyer, a senior citizen.
After providing her credit card’s expiration date, the caller then said Beyer needed to confirm the rest of her credit card number with him. That’s when Beyer recognized it was a scam.
“I said, ‘No, you called me, I didn’t call you.’ And that’s when he realized I was on to him, and he hung up,” she said.
Since January, senior citizens in Lampasas have lost around $200,000 as a result of fraud, said Tim Angermann, the town’s police chief.
“I don’t know how many people who have not reported this who are losing money right now, but we have to be proactive with our victims,” he said, explaining that prevention and awareness are some of the best ways to stop the scams.
Angermann will host a fraud awareness seminar at 2 p.m. June 9 at the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 402 S. Key Ave. There is no cost to attend.
Several national and state government entities will attend to help educate residents about the nationwide problem, including representatives from the U.S. Inspector General, FBI, the Texas attorney general’s office, several local attorneys, Lampasas Mayor Jerry Grayson and local law enforcement.
Various fraud cases have been reported over the past months in Lampasas, but the police department has seen fewer of the usual “pavement” or “gypsy” scams residents are used to seeing, Angermann said.
Thieves have contacted residents over the phone and Internet posing as Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes presenters, ChristianMingle.com users and incarcerated grandchildren, he said.
“I call it the ‘grandparent scam,’ when (senior residents) get a call from a grandkid saying they’re in Mexico or something, and they’ve gotten in trouble,” Angermann said, then mimicking the context of the fraudulent phone call: “‘I got caught with some friends with narcotics, but if you send me $5,000, I can get out. But don’t tell mamma and daddy because I don’t want to embarrass anybody.’”
Once a resident writes a check and puts it in the mail, he said, their money is gone. Later, they realize their grandchild was never in trouble.
“In my 40 years of law enforcement, I’ve never felt so helpless,” said Angermann, explaining that once residents come to the department for assistance, there’s not much officers can do to catch thieves or get the money back.
In one case, an elderly woman was approached three months ago by a man in the Lampasas H-E-B parking lot who asked her to buy some “diamonds,” Angermann said. The woman bought the jewels for $17,000, but she later realized the stones were merely cut glass.
Most of the $200,000 that was lost has went to phone and email scammers.
If the callers or alleged “prize givers” ask for money up front in order to ship winnings to residents, it’s a scam, he said, referring to other cases he’s seen.
Most fraud cases are national or international in scope, meaning local police departments hand cases over to the FBI or the U.S. Inspector General’s office.
According to the FBI website, ways to prevent becoming a victim include avoiding giving out personal information, verifying the source of a gift card or prize with the company’s headquarters and remembering if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
“I want to get the heavyweights in,” said Angermann, referring to the many government entities attending the June meeting. “If our small town has lost $200,000, what are the other towns losing?”
Contact Courtney Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7559