Probably the safest place to be in Tigard on the afternoon of Feb. 10 was the Summerfield Clubhouse, where several Tigard police officers were on hand to present information on crime prevention, specifically financial fraud and scams. And they also provided coffee and cookies.
Officer Kary Bowman and Det. Julie Hicks made the presentation, with Bowman starting by saying, "It's far easier to prevent crime than to make you whole afterwards. It's next to impossible to recover money from scams. In the 15 years I've been doing this, I have only seen a victim get money back one time. And suspects are creating new scams every day."
When Bowman asked how many people in the ballroom had been contacted by a scammer, every hand went up. When she asked how many fell for a scam, three out of four hands went up.
Bowman admitted that even she had been scammed. Six years ago, she was busy at work and her teenage son called to say there was a problem with their computer and should he call for help? She agreed, and he searched for tech help using Google and found someone.
"Twenty minutes later, my son called back to say the guy from the company needs your permission to go into the computer," Bowman said. "I said yes, and 10 minutes later he called again and said we needed to buy something. I said yes. Twenty minutes later he called again and said they wanted more money.
"That's when I realized I'd been scammed. I told the man no, and he warned me that our computers would blow up and I was taking my chances. Later both our computers got viruses. The lesson is that all of us can get scammed."
Hicks listed the warning signs of a scam, starting with being contacted out of the blue about a warrant, winning a lottery, unpaid traffic tickets, or fixing your computer or your roof or your driveway.
"You can't win a lottery you did not enter," Hicks said. "Another scam is someone claiming an emergency. They want you to react quickly and ask for personal information that they should probably already know. They often pose as being from a bank or the sheriff' office or Microsoft.
"Verify, verify, verify. Many scammers want you to wire money using Western Union or a pre-paid debit card. They will try to stay on the phone with you as you drive to the store. Just remember, the IRS doesn't get paid with iTunes cards."
Other scams are the grandparent scam in which someone calls pretending to be your grandchild in trouble, and catfish scams in which people start long-distance romances with someone who then asks for money.
"They prey on loneliness and want you to keep it a secret," Bowman said. "Another scam is someone offering you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that sounds too good to be true. Or you might get threatened with arrest for unpaid fines. These people are so clever that they will convince you that you have unpaid traffic fines even if you don't drive."
Another common tactic is for a scammer to pretend he is from PGE and threaten to shut off your utilities if you don't pay a bill he says is owed.
"And remember that the IRS will not call you – they will send a letter, and the FBI will not call to threaten to hurt you or your family," Bowman said.
All these situations are called phone spoofing, which is when someone calls and pretends to be someone else or from somewhere else. And the police also warned the audience to be mindful of door-to-door solicitations, although that is not a big problem in Summerfield because it prohibits solicitations.
Another area to be wary of is online sales such as Craig's List and eBay.
Prevention involves letting calls from unknown numbers go to voicemail and not answering the door when the doorbell rings.
"If you answer it, and it is a repair person, ask for photo ID," Hicks said. "Never let them in the house unless you called them. If it is someone saying they have an emergency, tell them you will call 911 for them.
"Don't be afraid to offend them. Do not make an immediate decision. If you have been approached by a scammer, tell your neighbors and spread the word. Always trust your instincts. Ignore unfamiliar and unsolicited mail and emails. Be wary of someone who wants to send you money and then have you pay them a portion back. No legitimate company will pay you in advance."
Also, people who are signed up for the federal Do Not Call registry don't usually receive calls from legitimate companies but scammers ignore it, according to Bowman.
They suggested that people can research scams on Google or the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.com or the Oregon Department of Justice at doj.state.or.us and also advised those who receive scam phone calls to report them to the FTC site so others will be warned.
"Also, call the police department on the non-emergency number at 503-629-0111 if you are scammed so someone attempts to scam you," Bowman said. "We need to be up on the scams going around. And get your free annual credit report. And remember, once you send money, it's gone."
Following the presentation, several people asked questions or told stories about scams.
One woman relayed how she offended one scammer who called her, who said he would keep calling her – and he did, at least 100 times.