As the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office’s investigator assigned to financial and fraud cases, I see an alarming number of people falling victim to scams. I see people lose as little as a couple hundred dollars to as much as to several thousand dollars. I decided to take this opportunity to point out some of the signs to show potential scams.

First, I will cover scams involving persons claiming to be law enforcement or other government employees. Normally, law enforcement personnel will not call you and tell you there is a warrant issued for or will be issued for your arrest (exception being for unpaid traffic tickets). Even if they do, they will never ask you to purchase gift cards to pay fines or for any other reason.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Real law enforcement understands the time we live in requires people to be skeptical to phone calls. Ask for call back numbers and tell them you will call them back to confirm they are who they say they are. Then look up the number for the agency they say they are calling from. Call that agency and confirm the person who contacted you actually is employed there. If so, ask to be connected to them. If you determine the person is not who they say they are, call your local law enforcement.

Some scammers prey on the elderly and will call and say their grandson or granddaughter has been in an accident or been arrested. Then they will ask for money to help them. In the “arrested” cases they claim to be an attorney trying to get them out of jail. They will ask for money to pay bonds and other fees.

Never, ever send them money. Call your loved ones or other family members and confirm they were arrested. If you can’t reach anyone who knows for sure, call the jail where they are supposed to be; they will tell you if that person is in custody. The scammers will try to tell you time is of the essence. Wrong, everyone knows the government moves slowly, jails are no different. The booking/release process takes time; there’s a lot of paperwork. Also, if they’re in jail, they are safe. You may not want them in jail but they will live. So, don’t rush into anything. Make sure what you’re being told is true. Anyone putting pressure on you is trying to scam you.

Lastly, the great deal scams. The old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” should be your motto. Anything that promises huge returns for a small fee should be avoided.

These scams involve the scammer gaining your confidence. They may pretend to be a relative who can only communicate with you via text or Facebook Messenger. They may tell you they were successful in getting the promised money and just want to tell you how to get it too. They will tell you there are fees or you must pay for the deal with gift cards. Grants don’t have fees to get money and no one can only be paid in gift cards. Scammers need your trust; I say, trust but verify.

There are many types of scams – and anyone can fall victim. Avoid becoming one by doing your research. If someone calls claiming to be from a law enforcement or government agency, hang up and do an internet search for the number for that agency. Call that agency and ask them to confirm they called you. If someone calls saying your family member needs help, call that family member or another one directly and confirm they have an issue. If someone offers you a great deal to save or make lots of money, research it on the web.

Lastly, trust your gut; if it doesn’t sound right it probably isn’t. Your first impression is normally right. And please share this with your friends, family and neighbors. Let us all work together to stop fraud in its tracks.

Phil Shelton, MBA, CFE, is an investigator of fraud and financial crimes for the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. Contact him at 972-825-4917.

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