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Be vigilant for fraudsters, police warn

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. That’s a valuable mantra when it comes to protecting oneself from fraudulent offers and scams, say police.

Owing in part to the proliferation of Internet usage, it seems that fraudulent offers, whether by phone or online, are now more common than ever. According to the Waterloo Regional Police Service’s annual report, police here responded to 1,315 reports of fraud in 2007; 679 of those cases were cleared, meaning that either charges were laid, suspects were identified or calls were deemed unfounded.

Fraud can happen to anyone, can take many forms and can be realized through several different media, including internet, phone or in person. While the former two might be more common, in-person scams are not uncommon.

Indeed, last month, a group of individuals claiming to be roofers approached area homeowners and offered them home repairs for what turned out to be disproportionate prices; banking on the fact that the victims would know no better, the suspects stressed the importance of getting the work done. In such scenarios, homeowners are often pressed by fraudulent contractors into believing that proposed renovations or repairs are necessary immediately. Typically, the con artists then request large sums of money up front for the purposes of “securing” materials or work orders.

In reality, the work is often unnecessary and in other cases not completed. In other cases, services rendered may be substandard in quality or simply more expensive.

As with many other crimes, “frauds are crimes of opportunity,” says Constable Jason Boutcher.   “Easy marks” become the targets of fraudsters looking for an easy score. Often, people looking for a good deal become the inadvertent victims of these crimes.

“If you get a cheque for fifty grand, you need to start questioning these things; it should be a red flag – you don’t get anything for nothing is essentially what it boils down to,” said Boutcher.

Seniors, because they often live alone, have more disposable income and are often more trusting of others are also frequent targets of fraudsters.

Boutcher notes that education and a healthy level of skepticism are key to protecting oneself from fraud and offers up a number of tips on fraud prevention.
Red flags to watch for:
» Requests for personal information such as a bank account or credit card number or a request by a person to verify such information (a bank will not call you and ask you to verify bank account or personal identification numbers).
» Payment is requested in cash or by money transfer.
» Payment is requested to cover taxes or for processing fees in order for you to receive a prize.
» There is pressure to accept a limited time offer.
» You are provided with an unsolicited cheque (often from another country) and asked to cash the cheque  then wire though a money transfer service back to the sender to cover such things as overpayments, processing fees, and the like. Just because your bank accepts your cheque does not mean it is legitimate. Although your bank statement may immediately reveal the amount of the deposited cheque, it may take several days or weeks for you to discover that the cheque you cashed is fraudulent – by then your money is sent and gone.

For more information, visit the Waterloo Regional Police website at www.wrps.on.ca or for phone fraud contact  the OPP-led Phonebusters at www.phonebusters.com or 1-888-495-8501. Locally, organizations interested in having a member of the WRPS provide a presentation on fraud prevention or any other crime prevention or safety topic should contact Const. Jason Boutcher or Sgt. Sig Peters at Division 3A in Elmira, 519-570-3000, ext. 3319.

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