Spotting red flags
Avoiding phone, text scams
By JACKIE JAHFETSON
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — Shortly after the shelter in place order was put into effect in Michigan, Deborah Heino of Negaunee started receiving text messages from a philanthropist named Mike who was asking people who might be needing monetary support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In all capital letters, the text stated that this individual named Mike was scoping out for people who need assistance including any money to help with health related issues. Heino, 65, replied to the first text message by saying, “Yes, I could use $2,500.”î This message was not in particular unusual for Heino as she is a substitute pastor for United Presbyterian Church in Ishpeming and there have been ìacts of kindnessî where people want to donate through technology.
Then about a week later, Mike texted Heino asking for her full name, address and phone number. But asking for a phone number was the red flag that set Heino on an investigation to find out that this text was only a scam.
Phone calls and text messaging scams are not new to the public, but with the worldwide crisis happening, law enforcement encourage people to avoid falling for solicitors and to report any scams that they’ve fallen in trap to.
Some of the people most susceptible to these scams are senior citizens. There are scam artists who willingly go out to target elderly people, demanding money and these are called ìgrandparent scams,î Michigan State Police Trooper Stacy Rasanen said.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And you need to make sure that if you’re uncomfortable about doing something (such as) if somebody calls you or sends something through the mail, investigate it yourself before reacting to it,î” Rasanen said.
With a grandparent scam, a caller may pretend to be someone’s child or grandchild and will say that they’ve been in some sort of situation such as a car accident and will ask for money. The call seems credible because they implement fear and emotion to convince the grandparent or parent that this is a real phone call, Rasanen said. If someone receives a phone call like that, it’s important to never give out personal information, bank account numbers or wire any money to this individual until you can confirm they are in fact your family, she explained. Contacting another family member in this situation will help avoid these scams, she added.
After receiving the second text message from Mike, the philanthropist, Heino got another text from this individual asking for personal information again and that he will text again once the blank check has been issued out via UPS. The third message was a clear indicator that this was a scam and that’s when Heino wanted to educate others on how they can spot red flags, she said.
Though Heino’s text messages differ from the grandparent scam, it’s important to investigate before acting on their demands, she said. During a time where people may be desperate for funds, itís vital to not fall for these scams, she noted.
“I’m concerned about people who are not tech-savvy and even people who are moderately tech-savvy because of how well written this was and how plausible it could be that someone during this time would want to help,”î Heino said.
The financial situation during this pandemic may lead to people falling for these scams and it could happen to anyone, Heino noted, adding these individuals may want to see how ìgullibleî people are. Heino said she feels obligated to warn others about these types of scam artists.
“Sometimes (when) people are desperate especially financially, common sense reasoning goes out the window,”î she said. ì“(It’s) sort of like a drowning man grasping at the person trying to save them, pushing them under.î”
If a person receives a phone call and the caller is asking for gift cards, this is a scam, Rasanen said. But people have fallen for these phone calls and went to the store, purchased gift cards and called the individuals back who in turn, take the money, she said, noting that after the transaction is complete, itís difficult to recover any of that money back.
“So what we’re encouraging people to do, especially senior citizens, is to have somebody they trust that they can contact and have them look into things for them,î” Rasanen said. “And vice versa, if you know of an elderly person, make sure you check with them and ask and look around because we’ve had it where adult children will go in and see that they’ve purchased these cards and ask them questions about why they’re doing that.î”
These criminal cases are ongoing, Rasanen said. Scam artists can have several accounts in different locations and these individuals are looking for people who will give them bank numbers and personal information and they transfer it into different bank accounts, Rasanen explained, adding that when conducting search warrants, that money may or may not be in that account.
There’s also other scams out there that people should be aware of such as shopping using online sites including Facebook, Rasanen said. People should be aware of who they are meeting up with and it’s important to do homework before purchasing items and it’s always a good idea to bring a friend along during those in-person transactions, she added.
“We talk about the seniors, but I guess it can happen to anybody. So (we say) that if you are scammed and you realize — whether it’s a family member (or if) you’re an adult that catches the senior citizen or it dawns on you that you made a mistake– you need to contact law enforcement. And the sooner you do that, the more effort we can put into it to try to recover that money,î” Rasanen said. “But if we don’t know that it’s happened, we can’t do anything for it.î
Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.