Police: Long-distance scams increasing

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Stolen credit cards and checks or scams — criminals change tactics and methods but the bottom line is finding ways to get your money, according to local law enforcement.

Focusing on white collar crime, Clovis Police Detective Max Stansell said he has worked around 66 fraud cases this year and estimated others in his division are probably carrying an additional 120 or more.

In more than two years of specialized investigation, Stansell said he has seen trends in types of fraud and the people who commit it.

Nationwide, most frauds and identity theft cases are perpetrated by men between the ages of 25 and 35, according to a recently released study funded by the Department of Justice.

In Portales, Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said about a dozen people, typically the elderly, have been victims of long-distance scams this year. In addition, he said there are a number of other white collar crimes involving forged checks, stolen credit cards and more.

“We spend a significant amount of time investigating fraud,” he said. “Typically what we have are cases that target elderly people or people that are looking to make a little bit of money quickly.”

In the past, he said perpetrators used the telephone but have moved to a combination of mail and Internet schemes.

Recent scams tend to originate from Canada, African countries or other locations abroad, he said, explaining prosecution and recovery of the victim’s money becomes nearly impossible.

“We’ve done pretty well for keeping people apprised of (scams) so we don’t have a lot of people that have fallen prey to them,” he said. “People can lose a life savings very, very quickly.”

According to the DoJ study, most suspects work alone, less than 20 percent used the Internet and most said they initiated their crimes by stealing fragments of the victim’s identifying information.

Mail scams and dumpster diving for personal information are also prevalent, the study said.

In Clovis, Stansell said he sees cases including credit card numbers stolen by retail workers, long-distance scams and check and credit cards taken by persons close to the victim.

Typically, local frauds are perpetrated by females between 18 and 30, Stansell said, and often the crimes are found to be a way to fund drug habits.

In agreement with Berry, Stansell said long-distance scams often referred to as the “Nigerian Scam” and others are becoming more frequent.

Of the cases he’s worked, he estimated about 20 percent have been referred to other agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because they involve interstate activity.

Recently, Stansell said he worked a case where the victim responded to an employment advertisement and received money orders in the mail. The victim was given instructions to cash the money orders, send portions to different addresses and keep some off the top.
Within days of sending out the money, the victim finds out the money order are fake.

“(The suspect) gets the money and then (the victim) gets stuck with the bill at the bank,” he said.

While he admits white collar cases take a lot of time — obtaining search warrants and scrutinizing documents and records — Stansell said he enjoys working them and finds them satisfying.

When one case is cracked, he said it often it leads to other related cases.

“If you catch one person, they’ve probably done it many times, so you can clear several cases with one arrest,” he said.
On the ’Net

Web sites with fraud information:
—New Mexico Attorney General: www.nmag.gov
—Federal Bureau of Investigation: www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/fraudschemes.htm
—Royal Canadian Mounted Police: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ scams/index_e.htm

Prevention and reporting:
—Never store your personal identification number (PIN) with your bank or credit cards. Many banks will not reimburse for fraudulent activity if the PIN was used for the transaction.
—Don’t leave purses, wallets or personal documents in your vehicle or in plain view at home. Many times fraud and identity theft are crimes perpetrated subsequent to a break-in or by family members or people you know.
—When using credit cards, don’t let the clerk walk away with it. A suspect only needs a short period of time to write down card information for later use.
—Check on your accounts often so you will see suspicious charges quickly.
—Notify credit holders and banks as quickly as possible if you believe your accounts have been compromised.
—File a police report in the event of a theft or fraud.
Source: Clovis Detective Max Stansell