By NATHAN GREGORY
Oktibbeha County sheriff’s deputies want to warn residents about recent complaints of Internet and phone scams, particularly during the holiday season.
Chief Deputy George Carrithers said the department has received several calls from citizens regarding a range of fraudulent activity, the two most frequent concerning a secret shopper scam and a Mercedes Benz giveaway scam.
“People really need to be wary of any suspicious, easy-work offers or giveaways they see on the Internet,” Carrithers said. “Any of these things that seem too good to be true are probably scams.”
Deputy Robert Elmore said he has been notified several times recently about the suspicious claims.
“I’ve had a couple of people report about secret shopper scams. I tell them right off the bat if it’s on the Internet it’s a scam,” Elmore said. “Some of the people that engage in this are really good at making the offers appear to be legitimate. They would be great salesmen if they did the right job.”
According to a report on Snopes.com, secret shopper scams are one of the most common forms of swindling.
“Such ads tout the ease of the work, the short hours and the money to be made from merely visiting stores each day to make purchases, even as they stress that no special training or educational background is required of prospective hires. According to such come-ons, successful applicants will be working on behalf of a variety of retailers and manufacturers of consumer products who are interested in knowing more about how products are displayed and marketed in stores and how customers are treated in such establishments,” the report says. “Those hired by such agencies will spend their days effecting specific purchases at specific retailers, afterwards turning in reports about their experiences and collecting fat paychecks for their troubles.”
Oktibbeha County resident Earl Kimbrough said he answered an advertisement claiming he had been chosen to be a mystery shopper who would visit local businesses and evaluate their customer service.
“I received two cashier’s checks for $875 a piece. I was instructed to take $200 from each check and then deposit the rest in a Western Union and wire the remainder of the money back,” Kimbrough said. “For each check, one (person) had signed it, but I was instructed to mail it to a different person’s address in Ocala, Fla. It turns out both of those people were fictitious. I filed a report and a local deputy told me the address in Ocala did not exist.”
Kimbrough said when he began suspecting the validity of the checks, he carried them to his bank. He was told the checks appeared to be legitimate and if he deposited, the money would later appear in his account.
“I decided not to do that and took the checks to a Western Union, and they said they could not cash the checks,” he said. “When I took the checks to the post office, they told me the checks weren’t worth the paper they were written on.”
Kimbrough said he wanted potential victims to be alert so their bank accounts aren’t compromised.
“It sounded too good to be true, but I was hoping it would be true,” Kimbrough said. “I want people to know about it so they don’t get burned.”
Elmore said he’s received calls regarding a swindle masquerading as a company by the name of Winners International Sweepstakes which convinces people they have won a substantial prize. In order to claim the prize, he said, they have to purchase a card and put money on it. The company then takes the money on the card without giving anything back in return. He said his investigations indicate this fraud has origins in Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
“The victims are told they have won a new Mercedes Benz plus additional prizes ranging from money to trips, and to claim their winnings they can go to specific retailers to get a Green Dot prepaid card and put a certain amount of money on it,” he said. “The person is then instructed to call the company as soon as they get the card and give them the number on it. It works like a credit card. All they need is the number.”
Carrithers said this scam is one of many that originate from other countries despite appearing based in the United States.
“Although it looks like it’s done in the U.S., it originates and terminates in different countries,” he said. “They’ve got it where they hit you up three or four different ways.”
Elmore said any residents concerned they might be victims of a phone or Internet scam should contact OCSO at 662-323-2421.
“If anybody has a question about what might be a scam, we can show them how to tell whether or not it is,” he said. “Contact us and we’ll take a look at it.”