Senoia police warn of new round of phone scams

by Wes Mayer

The Senoia Police Department is warning of three separate scams that Senoia residents have recently fallen victim to.

Two of these scams are similar and involve the victims being sent large checks from out of state. The victims were allowed – by the scammer – to spend and keep a certain amount of this money, but they were also asked to send the remaining money back to another “person,” who was also out of state. In these two cases, it was discovered too late that the money sent to the victims was in the form of either forged checks or fake money orders.

“It should be a clue if you receive a check from a business not associated with a person you are communicating with, they send you more money than you need or you are asked to send money back,” said Lt. Jason Ercole with the Senoia Police Department. “Look for the red flags, and if you’re suspicious, check with the bank or contact local law enforcement.”

In the first scam incident, which police are calling the “Secret Shopper” scam, the victim was contacted through email and asked if she wanted to participate in a shopping program with Walmart. As a secret shopper, she would be sent some money that she could spend on items in the store, and all she had to do was write a summary of her shopping experience. On top of this, she would be paid extra for her time.

The victim assumes her email address was found by the scammer after she applied for a job at Walmart, but it may have been found after she applied to any number of other jobs online, Ercole said.

The victim agreed to the program, and she was sent what was supposed to be a United States Postal Service money order for more than $870 along with a set of written instructions. She was asked to cash the money order and spend only $100 of the money on items – for personal use – at Walmart. She was asked to summarize her shopping experiences and she could then keep another $100 for herself.

However, she was asked to send the remaining money to another person at an Illinois address who also allegedly signed up for the program. The only problem – the money order was fake, so the store where the victim cashed the money order also became a victim of the scam. The “person” she sent the money to in Illinois probably does not exist, Ercole said.

After this, the same victim received another secret shopper invitation with a check for even more money. She knew it was suspicious this time, though, and she contacted the police department. This time, she received the check, which was indeed forged, from a resort in Las Vegas.

The second scam incident occurred with a couple selling some living room furniture for $950 online at Access Coweta. Soon after, the couple received texts from someone who said he lived in New York, but he was interested in buying the furniture because he was moving to the area soon.

Ercole said the couple attempted to call the potential buyer, but it always went to voice mail. When they asked him about this via text message, the buyer claimed he was deaf, so could only communicate through texting.

Similar to the earlier Walmart shopping scam, the buyer sent the couple a check for $1,000 more than the couple was asking for – $1,950. The buyer said the couple could keep the $950, but he asked them to purchase two $500 Green Dot MoneyPak cards and send them to his “brother,” whom he was paying to pick up the furniture.

This check was also forged, and when the bank realized it was a fake, it deducted the $1,950 from the couple’s account. However, the couple had already sent $1,000 to the scammer, and they lost that money as well.

The third scam scenario is very different, and although the scam incident didn’t occur in Senoia, a Senoia resident did become a victim after her checks were somehow cloned, Ercole said. This scam originated in Chicago, and is called “cracking cards.”

In this scam, the scammer preys on vulnerable people, usually those who just got out of jail, lost their jobs or even college students, Ercole said. The scammer will first reach out to the person through social media or meet them face to face, and the scammer will then openly tell the person their plan: the scammer says they will pay the “victim” somewhere around $200 in exchange for their credit or debit card accounts, and they will use these accounts to cash forged checks.

The “victim” will then play a part in the scam, and call the authorities or the bank and pretend like their cards and PIN numbers were stolen, Ercole said. On the security cameras, it will be obvious someone else cashed the forged checks with their accounts. However, most of the time, these “victims” do in fact become real victims when the scammer never returns to pay them the $200.

On top of this, these people who play a part in the scam and confess will often be charged for their crime, Ercole said. There were a few cases where, if the victim could pay the money back to the bank, they would not be charged.

However, there is still another victim in this scam – the person or business whose checks were forged by the scammer. With the case in Senoia, a woman had 18 checks cloned for $1,000 each that were cashed in a variety of locations. Ercole said it is unusual for these scams to victimize a person over a business, though, because larger businesses are less likely to notice discrepancies in their accounts.

Ercole said these scams have preyed on people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, but they can be avoided as long as people look for the red flags. If you are communicating with someone out of state or especially out of the country, if you are communicating in a suspicious manner such as only by texting, if someone sends you excess funds or you are asked to send money back, or if you receive a check from a business which doesn’t seem to be related to the person you are communicating with, it is most likely a scam.



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