Scam alert They say they’re watching you, but police are watching them

By on April 5, 2012

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

They claim to be nearby, watching you, hoping to scare you, with one goal in mind — your money.

In reality, they’re in another state or country, looking at a map of your town on the Internet.

"They’ll Google an address and name streets nearby, and it really puts fear in people," said Lititz Police Detective John Schofield.

That’s the case with a popular phone call scam local police are dealing with on a daily basis.

Last week, a Lititz woman got the call. A man told her that she won a prize, a package would soon be delivered to her home and she needed to pay a fee in advance. Suspecting it may be a scam, she told the caller she was hanging up and contacting the police. The caller then told the woman he was "watching her" and was going to "kill her." Within a few minutes, the woman received another call, this time from a female who said she was from the police department and instructed her to do whatever the caller requested. The male called back and told the woman he "wouldn’t kill her, because she is an old lady."

The woman hung up and did not send any money, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

"This happens a lot more often than people realize," Schofield said. "In this case they mentioned Main Street, and they made it sound like they were really nearby. But these callers are calling from other states, and often other countries. It’s troubling."

Other popular scams that keep police busy include a Craig’s List routine in which the criminal overpays for an item and tells the seller to just cash the check and wire the difference. By the time the check bounces, the suspect has the wired money and is long gone. Then there’s the lottery scam in which "winners" are told they have to send a check for the taxes. And a relatively new one that is gaining momentum involves a phone call from someone pretending to be a grandchild in legal trouble and they don’t want mom or dad to find out. They ask their "grandparents" to send money. Many times, Schofield said, the victims don’t even realize they’re not talking to their grandchild.

The elderly are often the prey, and in one local case a lottery scam bilked $180,000 out of an unsuspecting victim. In this case, the fraud was working out of Cyprus, channeled through New York City, and the FBI was able to identify the group involved. Even so, the victim may not get their money back.

"It’s devastating," Schofield said in regard to the impact on victims.

In the case of last week’s "I’m watching you" incident, investigators are hopeful.

"We can ID callers," Schofield said, but could not elaborate. "There are times when technology is against us, but this one is absolutely under investigation, with officer Chris Kelly leading the way. All I can say is it’s actively being followed up, and we’re waiting for information to come back to us at this point."

While the majority of scams still come through the mail, there is one common denominator, according to police — they want the victim to send money. That should be a red flag, Schofield said, and police should be notified immediately.

"The only way we’re going to be able to combat the majority of these scams is to educate people to recognize what is a scam and what is not," he said.

Police can be contacted through the Lancaster County emergency line at 664-1180. Lititz police receive several calls every week from residents involving phone scams, lottery scams, mail scams, etc. All residents are urged to not respond to any caller or mail offers. More SCAMS, page A3

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