Recently, Somerville and other Massachusetts communities have seen an increase in phone scams, incidents where an anonymous caller may have seemingly private knowledge about a victim, their family or finances and use that knowledge to fraudulently obtain thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
Below are a few warning signs that a caller is engaged in fraudulent behavior, and some steps you can take to protect yourself:
1. There are currently three common scams:
a. “Back Payment”: The scammer pretends to work for a government agency, a utility, or a mortgage company and claims the victim has a past due balance. The scammer may threaten arrest, deportation or suspension of the victim’s license.
b. “Grandson”: The scammer pretends to work for a police department or pretends to be a kidnapper and claims that the victim’s relative was arrested/in an accident/kidnapped and will not be bailed/freed unless the victim pays.
c. “Winner”: The scammer pretends that the victim has just won a valuable item or large sum of money, but needs to provide account information or make a small initial payment (which may be thousands of dollars) before the winnings are sent.
2. Scammers may use common fake names, fake badge numbers, fake e-mail accounts and fake phone numbers with the correct area code (even “spoofing” a number so that it appears legitimate on caller ID).
3. Rather than using official channels, scammers request that you send funds by purchasing a pre-paid card (such as a Green Dot), wire funds through a service (such as Western Union) or transfer funds directly to a specific account.
Preventing or Responding to Scams
1. Do not give personal or financial information over the telephone to an unverified party.
2. Never make a payment in panic.
3. Back Payment Scam: Hang up, then directly contact the appropriate customer care or billing center to verify the issue.
4. The Grandson Scam: Hang up, then directly contact the appropriate relative to verify their status. If you have difficulty reaching that relative, consider directly contacting their local police department to check on their status.
5. Contact the Somerville Police immediately at our non-emergency line (617-625-1212). Be sure to record the scammer’s number and information and any requested payment details.