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Clark County Sheriff > Community Information > Current Scams

Current Scams

  1. Send Money (winnings tax, processing fee etc.)
  2. Charitable Organization Scams
  3. Favorite Grandson Scam
  4. Drifter Poses as Insurance Agent; Steals Credit Card
  5. What To Do If You Lose Your Wallet, Purse or Credit Cards

1. Send Money (winnings tax, processing fee etc.)

In a well-known scam that refuses to die, a Vancouver man recently received a letter implying that he is a big winner in a sweepstakes and needs to send in $14.95 as a "one-time required win opportunity procedure fee."

The oddly written letter was mailed from Las Vegas.

Police for years have advised local residents not to reply to such inducements.

In Clark County an elderly victim reported they've lost at least $4,850 from a similar but much more convincing scam.

The victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they first received a post card from a company in "Canada". The victim was told they had won "something". The victim sent the postcard back to an "unknown" address in Canada, giving the victims name, address and phone number. The victim was called about one week later from a "Michael Smith". Michael told the victim they had won a Lottery out of Canada and they would be receiving a check or two in about one week.

On about July 23, 2003, the victim received their first check for $4,850 from a "Rainer Pacific Bank" from Michael Smith. The victim was amazed and took the check to their local bank. Michael Smith indicated to the victim they had to send him "cash" from Western Union for $1,550 for taxes on the winnings. On the same day, the victim deposited the check for $4,850; the victim took $1,550 from the cashed check to Western Union and "wired" the money to Michael Smith. The receiver of the Cash was "John White".

Before the check for $4,850 cleared the victim's bank account, the victim received a second check, this time for $54,800 from "Michael Wilson". The victim took that check to their bank and deposited it into their account. "Michael Wilson" told the victim they needed to send an additional $2,800 to Vancouver, Canada by wire. The victim took another $2,800 in cash from their account to Western Union and wired that amount to "John White" in Vancouver, Canada. The victim then received information from their bank that the first check for $4,850 was "no good". By now the victim had already spent most of the money left over from the first check and sending the wire of $1550.

The victim has since learned from their bank that the victim was responsible for the full $4,850. The 2nd check for $54,800 has not yet "cleared" the victim's bank account. At this time the victim stands to lose an additional $2,800 for a loss of $7650.

A phone number to the mysterious Michael Smith and or Michael Wilson was only a filled voice mail system message indicating the system was full and no further messages could be recorded.

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2. Charity Organization Scams

Many scams arose in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Unfortunately this is nothing new. Following other tragedies, con artists have attempted to take advantage of the public's good will, Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. Scams often take the form of phony charities seeking donations, or unscrupulous merchants who unnecessarily raise the prices of essential goods.

"Incomprehensible as it may seem, there are people who will seize upon this tragedy to line their own pockets," she explained.

Washington residents must use care if approached by charities seeking donations – particularly charities they’ve never heard of. She recommends people give only to those charities they are familiar with, or to thoroughly check out charitable solicitations before giving.

Consumers should be aware of certain warning signs before giving:

Don't be fooled by a name. Some charities, including for-profit companies, have sympathetic sounding names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate charities. Don't fall for a "sob story." The hard luck tale is a favorite ploy of the phony operator. A legitimate charity will tell you how it is using your money to make a difference for the better. Don't give in to pressure. Tell the solicitor you want to take time to make your decision. Don't pay with cash. Pay by check and make it out to the charity (using its full name, not initials) not to the fundraiser.

Never give your credit card number to a fundraiser over the phone. If the fundraiser comes to your door, always ask for identification. Alternatively, you can mail your check directly to the charity.

Gregoire also warned people to be wary of charities that offer to send a courier over immediately to collect your money.

For information on charities, call the Secretary of State's Charity Hotline at (800) 322-GIVE ((800) 322-4483)).

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3. The Favorite Grandson Scam

He found his victims in the telephone book scanning the white pages until his finger landed on an old-fashioned name. Mabel. Ruth. Dorothy. Nelly. Irene. Somebody possibly elderly, and unassuming, he hoped.

Then using a jailhouse phone, Stephen Lee Brown dialed.

"Hello", the 85-year old Hillsboro, Oregon victim answered.
"Hi grandma."
"Who is this?"
"Your favorite grandson."
"Jerry?"
"Yes."
"What’s the matter dear?"
"I’ve been in a car wreck."

Over several months, inmate Brown made dozens of phone calls to Portland-area senior citizens from local jails, posing as a grandson in desperate need of cash. Sometimes the feigned calamity was a car wreck; other times it was a much-needed bail-out from jail.

What made it work – at least until a victim tripped him up – was how he cleverly got his victims to divulge their grandsons' names, how quickly he assumed the role and the great lengths many senior citizens will go to help their loved ones.

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4. Drifter Poses as Insurance Agent; Steals Credit Card

Columbian October 2, 2001

Sheriff's deputies say a scam artist used newspaper obituary information and posed as a State Farm insurance agent to steal a 76-year-old woman's credit card.

The woman, who lives in the Camas area, told deputies her husband died recently at age 78. On Thursday, she said, a man who claimed to be a State Farm insurance agent came to her home.

He said her husband had taken out a $10,000 life-insurance policy and he needed her Social Security number, driver's license number and other information to complete the claim.

While they are talking, the woman left the room, leaving her purse unattended.

When the man left, she noticed her credit card was missing from the purse.

She recalled that the information the visitor had about her husband was the same as was published in a newspaper obituary. She called State Farm and learned there was no such policy.

The victim said the scam artist showed her a State Farm business card, although he didn't leave it with her.

He was described as a thin, white male about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 37 years old. He was well-groomed, clean shaven and had short brown hair.

He drove a red and cream colored vehicle similar to a Ford Bronco

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5. What To Do If You Lose Your Wallet, Purse or Credit Cards

We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed using your name, address, social security number, credit, etc. Unfortunately, I have firsthand knowledge of this as my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week the thief had ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from the Department of Motor Vehicles to change my driving record information online, and more. But here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know.

As everyone always advises, cancel your credit cards immediately, but the key is having the toll free numbers and your credit card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily.

On a personal note, I remember losing a Master Card and until I got the toll free number from information I was a wreck. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, as this proves to the credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation.

Here's what's most important: Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and social security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

The phone numbers are:
Equifax – (800) 525-6285
Experian (formerly TRW) – (800) 301-7195
Trans Union - (800)680-7289
Social Security Administration Fraud Line - (800) 269-0271

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Clark County Sheriff's Office:
Street Address: 707 West 13th Street, Vancouver, WA 98660
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 410, Vancouver, WA 98666
Main phone: (360) 397-2211
Telecommunications Relay Service: (800) 833-6388, then call (360) 397-2445
E-mail: sheriff@clark.wa.gov
E-mails are monitored: Mon-Fri 8-5 p.m.

Responsible Elected Official: Sheriff Garry E Lucas

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