Editorial: Scams are becoming more common and sophisticated — don’t fall for them
More likely than not, dishonest individuals have been seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of others since the dawn of human history. Such was the case only last week right here in Craig, only in this incident, it is likely several dishonest individuals were seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of an entire city. And, were it not for the diligence and care exercised by several of our local officials, they might well have pulled it off.
In case you missed the story, the Craig Press on Friday, March 2, reported that an fairly sophisticated attempt to scam the city out tens of thousands of dollars was foiled when Craig Finance Director Bruce Nelson became suspicious of an email — ostensibly sent by Mayor John Ponikvar — requesting the transfer of $37,000 from the city’s bank account to a privately held account in Oklahoma.
Nelson, while still under the impression he was communicating with Ponikvar — who was traveling out of town — referred “the mayor” to “Mike,” and, though Nelson used only a first name and made no mention of Mike Foreman’s role as city manager, the scammers had researched their target well enough to know to email Foreman.
Foreman — noting that the scammer’s responses “weren’t the vernacular … or the syntax” typically used by Ponikvar — informed Nelson he believed the email was fraudulent. Nelson then alerted Chief of Police Jerry DeLong, who contacted the Clinton, Oklahoma, bank mentioned in the email and learned the account to which the transfer had been requested was, indeed, a valid personal account.
Though the city of Clinton is still investigating, officials believe the account holder was also a victim and that his or her account had also been compromised by the scammers.
DeLong noted that such scams routinely compromise private accounts to funnel money overseas, directing their ill-gotten gains into these accounts, only to immediately withdraw the funds for redeposit into their own pockets.
We are fortunate, indeed, to have dedicated, cautious, mindful city officials, such as Nelson, Ponikvar and DeLong; if not for their diligence and care, this scam might have cost the city thousands of dollars and a considerable case of embarrassment.
In recent years, Craig seems to have become a hunting ground of choice for these dishonest scammers.
Each year, when this newspaper conducts its “Best Of” contest, scammers — representing themselves as being affiliated with the newspaper — inevitably approach nominated businesses offering to sell them a plaque to commemorate their wins.
By the way: If you win the “Best Of” contest, you don’t have to buy a plaque; we just give one to you.
Open enrollment, credit card offers, mortgage interest rates: Practically anything having to do with the exchange of money has become fair game for these predatory ne’er-do-wells. Complicating the matter, we’ve learned that scammers have recently acquired the ability to disguise their telephone numbers so as to create the illusion their calls are originating locally, further enhancing their lies and misrepresentations.
The Craig Press has — and will continue to — publicize any scams we hear about, but it seems the moment one deception is exposed, a new one — like the proverbial Phoenix — arises to take its place.
That said, we close with a few tips about how to spot these deceptions for what they are.
You might be dealing with a scammer if any of the following — compiled from the website lifewire.com, apply.
• Money is involved — The caller may say you have won money, that you have been left money or that your money is in danger, but the common element is money. This should be your biggest indicator that you might be looking at a scam.
• It sounds too good to be true — Scammers promise easy money in order to distract you from their target: your personal and financial information.
• They use fear — Usually, scammers will use fear to manipulate you into doing something you normally wouldn’t. They’ll tell you something is wrong with your account or your computer to scare you. Some scammers might even try to convince you that they are law enforcement and that you’ve committed a crime, such as downloading pirated software. They will use your fear to trick you into paying a “fine” (called ransomware) to make everything OK, but it’s nothing more than blackmail under false pretense.
• They ask for personal information — Scammers want your personal information so they can steal your identity to sell it or use it themselves to obtain loans and credit cards in your name. Never give your Social Security number or bank account information to anyone online or over the phone. You should also avoid providing any personal information in response to an unsolicited email or a pop up message.
“20 years — can you believe it?” Dave Pike asked Wednesday morning as his opening salute to all those who have made Craig’s Whittle the Wood Rendezvous event possible these last few decades.