Through research, scammers can craft the perfect back story when asking their victims for money. Without knowing the warning signs, hundreds of thousands – even millions – of hard-earned dollars can vanish.
Warwick Police on Tuesday issued an advisory warning the public of scam phone calls in which the caller impersonates an officer. The release said that scammers will introduce themselves as an officer and say that there is a warrant for the call recipient’s arrest. The caller will then say that the warrant can be voided if payment is made through gift cards and other forms of digital currency.
“We are also seeing a reported increase in various types of financial fraud where money is being demanded over the phone involving online romances, computer tech/virus support scams, and distressed family members in jail,” reads the advisory.
Warwick Police Capt. Ryan Sornberger said that the department has received 13 calls about this scam in 2020. Eight have confirmed loss of funds, while five indicated they thought they were being scammed, but lost no money.
Sornberger said more than $50,000 has been lost by Warwick residents so far this year – with one victim losing in excess of $10,000.
“We want to know about all of [these scams], even the attempts,” he said. “The more we know, the more we can help.”
These officer impersonation calls are not the only ones being reported in Rhode Island. Kim Casci-Palangio, the Rhode Island program manager for Cybercrime Support Network (CSN), helps to combat romance scams in Rhode Island.
According to Federal Trade Commission information cited in a CSN infographic, online romance scams drained $143 million from victims nationwide in 2018. CSN also states that the median loss reported for romance scam victims is seven times more than other types of cybercrime.
Casci-Palangi said one scammer posed as an active U.S. armed forces officer and stole more than $1 million in computer and technical equipment, along with $730,000, from his victims.
The group lists red flags, such as information on a profile not matching what its purported owner says, being told stories of misfortune and financial struggle, or receiving excuses as to why the person cannot provide pictures, communicate by video or meet.
“The heart wrenching part of romance scams is that it is not just a loss of money,” Casci-Palangio said.
These types of scams often do not happen within a single phone call. Casci-Palangio said that these scams can vary in how long they last, but unlike the police scam – or scams involving National Grid impersonators threatening electric service disconnection and demanding payment – they are usually not immediate grabs for money.
“Scammers do a lot of research when they target somebody,” Casci-Palangio said.
According to Casci-Palangio, a scammer may do that research and tailor a profile to fit the victim’s personal interests. She provided an example of someone posting pictures with a dog and then telling their victim that the dog needs emergency surgery, but that they not have the funds to pay for it.
Casci-Palangio warned that romance scammers will often try to pull victims away from the website through which they made contact and try to isolate them from others. By making themselves their victim’s primary contact, often in a time of vulnerability, they consume most of their attention.
CSN powers a website for fraud support – a database for both victims of cybercrime and law enforcement after a scamming incident takes place. According to CSN’s release, the FraudSupport website had over 48,000 visitors in the last year.
The Better Business Bureau reported another scam that uses an automated voice message acting as a caller. It asks the call recipient if they can hear them. The goal of the scam is to get the victim to say “yes,” which will be recorded to verify and make purchases with the user’s bank information.
Casci-Palangio said that if someone believes they have been targeted by a romance scam, they should cut off all contact, make a report to the CSN website and reach out to police and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The CSN website also recommends calling the bank associated with the victim’s account to report any loss of money.
Warwick Police urged residents to be cautious if an unknown caller is requesting too personal information. If anyone believes they are being called by a scammer, police advise residents to hang up and contact the department at 468-4200.