Police chief warns residents of phone scams

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Columbiana Police Chief Lamar Vick is warning city residents to watch out in the wake of a string of recent phone scams mostly targeting the city’s older population.

If somebody calls you claiming you’ve won a prize but will have to send money via Western Union before receiving it, hang up the phone, Vick said. It’s a scam.

“There’s not a lot of things that are free,” Vick said. “The bottom line is, it’s common sense. Why would somebody send you $275,000 but they want you to send $275 up front?”

Vick was referring to the recent case of an older resident who was targeted by such a scam. She received a call from someone who told her she had won money and a new car but needed to send $275 up front to claim the prize.

The woman eventually hung up the phone, Vick said, but others aren’t always as fortunate. Some residents have made the mistake of giving the caller personal information before catching on to the scam.

“There are no banks, no Social Security office that calls you on your phone and asks you for personal information,” Vick said, “unless it’s your personal banker and you actually know them on a first name basis.”

Such phone scams are usually very elaborate, and the scammers are persistent, he said. In the most recent case, for example, someone called back four times after the older resident hung up the phone on him.

“There’s a lot of money that has been lost to these scams,” Vick said.

While younger residents can be targets, the scammers seem to prey on older residents.

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said the scammers are skilled con men.

“It’s not their first rodeo,” Lowe said. “They’re good scam artists.”

Vick said it’s “almost impossible” to catch the perpetrators, who could just as easily be working from overseas as somewhere in the United States.

“They could be in another country sitting in a room with a lot of computers, sending out e-mails [fishing for information],” Vick said. “It’s almost impossible to catch them because of the way they run it.”

There are probably more victims in Columbiana than authorities know about, Vick said.

“Some people are embarrassed to report the scam to authorities,” he said.

In addition to the phone scams, Vick also cautioned residents to be leery of anybody who unexpectedly shows up at their doors with a truck full of asphalt, especially if the person says he’s just finished repaving a driveway down the road and has some leftover asphalt.

If the resident tells the person or people to go ahead with the repaving, the final price usually ends up being as much as three times higher than the initial quoted price.

“Of course, we have some people that are legit that do that, but not all of them,” Vick said.

If a resident finds himself or herself in this position, and wants the driveway repaved, he or she should first contact the city and check to see if the company has a business license.

Even that’s not a fail-proof method to avoid the asphalt scam, Vick said, adding that his department welcomes calls from concerned citizens checking up on such companies.

While Vick can’t recommend a particular business instead of another, he said his department could let citizens know if the police department has had issues with it before.

Reports of the asphalt scam usually spike in the spring, Vick said.