The book “Snooki: A Shore Thing," two packs of St. Patrick's Day Safe and Sober coasters, a stuffed convict, a broom head and a badge - that's what a professional scam artist was to receive in the mail instead of the $3,000 in iPads that the scammer ordered using a local victim's account information.
Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang said crimes like these are increasingly common.
“In this case, they probably sent the guy an email and he opened it up,” Klang said. “It told him he needed to log in to his account and it copied every keystroke and sent them the password to his Verizon account. Then they were able to purchase the items there.”
Scammers use these tactics in all sorts of ways, from stealing identities to buying gift cards or, in this case, expensive merchandise. Unless police are alerted quickly, that merchandise or money is not only stolen, it usually ends up overseas in the hands of people who are paid to invent scams.
“These are complex cases,” Klang said. “The success of the cases is that they don't get caught. They don't because they are sitting somewhere overseas at a cubical looking for ways to steal items or money from people. This is one of the ways they do it.”
The scammers avoid leaving a trail of addresses leading directly to themselves. The scams are increasingly complicated to prevent law enforcement interference. Even though police know where the package was headed, there will be no criminal there waiting to be picked up and hauled away to jail, or at least stopped.
“In this case they sent it to a hotel and then they call the hotel and say, 'Hey, I'm supposed to receive a package there. My secretary sent it to the wrong place,'” Klang said. “These are elaborate schemes they spend days and hours on. They send it through multiple jurisdictions so nobody can really find them or follow up on it. Then the hotel sends the package to another address they specify.”
In this case, on Sept. 10 the Pequot Lakes Police Department was able to intercept the package through the post office, extract the ill-begotten merchandise and replace it with junk and abandoned property they had sitting around. They then had a new shipping label with the destination address made and sent it on its way to the scammer.
“We thought those items were obviously cute,” Klang said. “We'll see if they can figure that out once they get it.”
Klang said the department posted a photo of the switch-up to Facebook hoping it would help alert people of the scam that's going around and to get people to be more on guard. That's part of the reason they stuffed the package with what they did - to improve the likelihood of the post being shared.
“I wanted to do it because I thought it would create some buzz on social media,” Klang said. “A lot of times we talk to the people that are scammed and they say, 'I wish I knew about this.'”
Klang said would-be victims can be on guard by never trusting any emails, messages or texts that instruct them to log in to their accounts through a link provided in the email. At the very least a person can hover over the link without clicking on it to see where the link actually goes.
For example, if it says Verizon.com, but hovering over the link shows literally anything else, that is likely a scam. The more foolproof trick is to never click on links in emails. Instead, type Verizon.com into a browser and go from there.
“Oftentimes it's a scam,” Klang said. “It looks real, but it's not.”
Those who think they have been scammed have to act fast. The police can sometimes stop a scam in progress, such as in this case. In other cases, there still needs to be a record of the scam.
“There are a lot of scams going on,” Klang said. “These people work full time trying to work out ways to get your money. They are from overseas and once that money's gone, we can't get it back. If they are a victim of that, they can go to Fraudsupport.org and file a complaint with the FCC. The FBI is tracking that and we need to continue to send them those crimes. If they get enough of them, maybe we can do something and get something done.”