Combatting phone scams

“Hello?”

“Who is this?”

“Please stop calling me.”

Versions of this conversation are all-too common these days as people continue to be inundated with bothersome telephone calls from telemarketers, survey takers, bill collectors and, yes, scam artists.

While the first three groups may actually serve a genuine purpose, the final category — that of the telephone scammer — serves only to benefit those who are looking to make money by taking advantage of unsuspecting individuals.

These scams have taken many forms and have resulted in the theft of countless dollars.

Current laws and members of law enforcement have been unable to keep up with the seemingly ever-changing nature of these telephone scam artists who seem to be as brazen as ever as they exhibit less and less of what most members of society would consider civil or appropriate conduct.

While the suspects are still due their day in court and have only been accused, not convicted of any crimes, this week marked something of a breakthrough when it comes to attempting to bring telephone scammers to justice as, after an investigation, the New York State Attorney General and New York State Police announced the arrest of three individuals.

The three suspects are accused of overseeing an elaborate telephone extortion scheme that took advantage of 55 victims across Niagara, Onondaga, Kings, Nassau, Oneida, Madison, Oswego, Cayuga, Cortland and Genesee counties.

According to the indictment in the case, the suspects called victims and claimed that their close relatives were in car accidents and demanded money after suggesting the relatives in question did not sufficient insurance to pay their related bills. The suspects are accused of threatening to cause physical harm to the victims’ family members if the ransom was not paid, with at least one of the trio of suspects also claiming to be either a drug dealer or gang member in an effort to instill more fear into the targets. The indictment suggests some victims were told their relatives would be shot if they did not comply.

The details of this particular case sadly sound all-too familiar to people who have been targeted by dubious callers at the other end of their home, business and cell phones.

While previous scams often attempted to trick people into sending money, in recent years it seems the nature of the calls have turned darker and, at times, even violent.

It seems telephone scammers know no bounds as they have, at various points, posed as officers of the law, representatives from legitimate charitable groups, pseudo-representatives of made-up non-profits that don’t actually exist and, as shown in the above example, bad samaritans with bad intentions, drug dealers or gang members.

While tugging at the heartstrings of people who have wives, husbands, children and family members they adore is without a doubt one of the dirtiest tricks a scammer could employ, it is, unfortunately, very likely to be an effective one as well.

There’s some comfort in knowing at least that representatives from agencies like the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Police are keeping tabs on such activity, the reality is these sorts of calls keep coming and coming and coming and are likely to continue to happen even after perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted.

The best advice has now become old advice.

If you don’t recognize the call or are suspicious of its origin, hang up.

Never, ever, under any circumstances should anyone send money or financial information to individuals or organizations that do not seem on the up and up.

If you receive a call that includes threats from people demanding money or if you believe you have been victimized by a telephone scam, then contact the State Police at 1-800-GIVETIP.

It seems as though there’s no way to completely eliminate scam callers from our lives completely.

Being smart about what you say over the phone and reporting bad actors is the only way to stop these modern-day telephone thieves from reaping any benefit from their criminal activity.

The Niagara Gazette

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