Crime

With more Whatcom County agencies issuing scam warnings, are we being targeted more?

‘Please do not buy into these scam calls, simply hang up’

A computer-synthesized voice claiming to be an FBI agent with a warrant for your arrest is just one of the telephone scams police have warned about recently.
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A computer-synthesized voice claiming to be an FBI agent with a warrant for your arrest is just one of the telephone scams police have warned about recently.

Nearly every day, it seems there is some new warning issued by yet another government agency about how somebody is using their good name to try to scam you out of your hard-earned money or personal information.

In the last month, alone, the following alerts were issued locally:

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook that scammers claiming to be from the sheriff’s office were demanding money to avoid jail for missing jury duty or other fabricated reasons, telling victims to transfer funds.

The Bellingham Fire Department posted on Facebook July 31 that someone not associated with the department was soliciting area businesses to purchase advertisements on a magnetic board. The caller reportedly asked targeted businesses to buy spots between $500 and $1,200, which it said would benefit the local fire department.

A post Wednesday, Aug. 7, on Whatcom 911 — the Facebook page for the county’s What-Comm 911 emergency dispatch — said a number of callers had reported fraudulent calls claiming to be from the Social Security Administration saying they needed information to issue new social security numbers. The scammers claimed multiple credit cards had been opened in the target’s name, that targets may be suspects in drug running or money laundering and made various other fear-inducing comments.

The Washington State Department of Health issued a press release Thursday, Aug. 8, stating that fraudsters were calling clinics and offices posing as the Washington State Medical Board and saying there was a problem with a physician’s Drug Enforcement Agency registration.

It’s almost gotten to the point that you have to question whether you should answer and trust the caller ID when it says your own mother is phoning.

And that begs the question, are Whatcom County residents being targeted in scam attempts more often?

According to data recently released by the Federal Trade Commission, the answer is yes.

During the second quarter of 2019 (April through June), Whatcom County residents reported 374 fraud attempts — approximately 1.6 per 1,000 residents and up 32.6% from the 282 reported in the first quarter of the year.

That marked the highest number of reported fraud attempts the county has seen since 2014, when it had 389 in the third quarter, 401 in the second and 391 in the first.

Of the 374 fraud attempts reported to the FTC in the second quarter, 133 of them were classified as impostor scams — the highest number the county has seen since the data began being collected in 2014.

Statewide, Washington had 1.75 fraud reports per 1,000 people, which ranked it behind Nevada (2.29), Florida (2.06), Georgia (1.88), Maryland (1.88), Oregon (1.82) and California (1.76) and tied with Delaware.

Nationwide, the FTC had 406,508 fraud reports during the second quarter costing $348.6 million in losses, with Washington state accounting for 9,603 worth $7.2 million in losses.

Of the 11 metro areas tracked in Washington state, Whatcom County ranked tied with Skagit County for sixth-most fraud reports per 1,000 people.

The FTC also tracks the number of Do Not Call Registry (DNC) complaints, and here’s the highlights of what that data showed:

There were 285 Do Not Call complaints made by Whatcom County residents in June — the most the county has seen since 295 were reported in August 2018. There were 266 Do Not Call complaints in May.

Through the first six months of 2019, there have been 1,282 Do Not Call complaints in Whatcom County, which is actually a decrease from 2018 when there were 1,413 and the 1,566 complaints for those months in 2017.

The top types of calls reported in Whatcom County Do Not Ca;; complaints through the first six months of 2019 were impostors (14.4%), medical and prescriptions (13.0%), computer and technical support (11.5%), reducing debt (6.1%) and vacation and timeshares (2%). In 2017 and 2018, reducing debt was the top type of call that drew a complaint with 13.8% and 16.6%, respectively.

The county saw an all-time high in the percentage of Do Not Call complaints about robo callers in June, with 94.7% of the calls coming from non-human callers. That upped the 2019 average to 87%, which was well above 81.5% in 2018 and 70.8% in 2017. It also was well above the national average of 70.7% robo caller.

Division of Consumer Response and Operations lead data analyst Paul Witt wrote that it’s important to report any fraud attempts you may receive.

“While you won’t always know how your report made a difference, you can find out more about calls people like you are reporting to the FTC across the U.S. or in your community,” Witt wrote in a story with the newly released data.

Fraud should be reported to law enforcement in your area and to the FTC at donotcall.gov.

Also always protect your account and personal information, even if the organization calling seems legitimate.

“Please be diligent when receiving phone calls asking for your donations,” the Bellingham Fire Department said in its post. “Take your time and investigate the business, ask a few questions of the caller, and trust your gut. Please be cautious and do not give this person any personal information without fully vetting the program.”

Avoiding spoof calls

Scammers often try to disguise their identities by spoofing the information that appears in your call identification display and trick you into answering. They use local area codes, numbers that may look familiar or even impersonate a legitimate business, utility or government agency. The FCC offers these tips to avoid being spoofed:

Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t know.

If you answer and get someone unexpected, hang up immediately.

Don’t hit a button to stop getting calls, hang up instead.

Don’t assume an unexpected call, even if it appears it’s from a business you know, is legitimate. Hang up and call back a number you can verify from a bill or official website to confirm.

Always be suspicious, as scammers can be very convincing by asking what seem to be innocent questions, offering things too good to be true or making threats.

Never give out personal information, such as account numbers, social security number or passwords, or answer security questions.

If you are being pressured for immediate payment, use extreme caution.

Look into call blocking apps for cell phones and ask about how to block calls on landlines.

Report any spoof scams to local law enforcement, the FCC and Federal Trade Commission.

More information: fcc.gov/spoofing.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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