Police say fraud ‘rampant’ in Durham

Dec. 28, 2012 @ 06:24 PM

Financial fraud is “rampant” in Durham, but there’s one major weapon would-be victims should use: vigilance.

That’s how fraud investigators assess today’s climate as they try to keep up with a mounting caseload of fraud – much of it on craigslist and other Internet sites.

Recently, for example, a Florida man was swindled out of a $16,000 diamond ring by a Durham scammer, according to Sgt. Laird Evans of the Durham Police Department’s Fraud Unit.

Evans said the Florida man advertised a ring on craigslist for $22,000. A Durham man contacted him by email, and the two agreed to a price of $16,000 for the ring, which had a 2.5-carat diamond stone surrounded by another 2.5 carats of diamonds.

The owner shipped the ring COD (cash on delivery) to a UPS store in Durham. The suspect examined the package and gave UPS a certified cashier’s check, and UPS sent the check to the man in Florida.

The ring was real, but the check was fake, and now the owner is out of luck unless the Durham suspect and the ring are found.

“Most people at UPS won’t know if a check is counterfeit, just like most citizens won’t know when they get [a fake check] in the mail,” Evans said. “But then, you take the check to the bank, and the bank tells you when it comes back that it’s no good.”

Police got the ring case recently, and no arrest has been made.

“This kind of fraud is rampant,” Evans said. “It’s terrible.”

Evans said similar scams occur on other sites, including eBay.

“It’s common for someone to buy something on eBay and get an empty box,” he said. Another popular scam victimizes job seekers.

They apply for a job listed online, then get an email message or phone call from a potential “employer.”

“They’ll arrange to start the job, and the person will send them an advance on their pay, which will be too much,” he said. “When they contact the employer, they’ll say: ‘Oh, my assistant sent you the wrong check. Just deposit it and wire the extra money back to us’.”

The person deposits the “check” in the bank and immediately wires the “employer” the extra amount.

“Three days later, they’re contacted by the bank, saying the deposited check is no good,” Evans said, and the wired money is likely gone forever.

Prepaid cards are another popular way to defraud.

“A lot of crime is done using stolen credit cards to buy gift cards, which they can turn into cash,” Evans said. “And they also get prepaid Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards using either stolen or counterfeit checks, a cashier’s check or credit cards with people’s skimmed [electronically stolen] credit card information.”

Yet another way to steal people’s money electronically is to buy a cheap device that reads credit card numbers and put it on a store’s gas pump at night after the store has closed but the pumps are still operating.

“A lot of people don’t realize that many gas pumps at convenience stores are left on at night,” Evans said. “People use their credit and debit cards to buy gas, and if a thief puts a skimmer on the card reader, it will read your card information and allow it to be stored.”

The thief may then encode it onto an old gift card.

“If you have a Kroger gift card and you’ve skimmed my BB&T information off a debit card, you can put it on the Kroger card and then go in any store and slide the card, and it will delete [money] like it’s my debit card.”

For all frauds, Evans has this advice: “Beware of anything that sounds too good to be true. It’s an old adage, but it’s true.”

Evans said many people get swindled because they want something for nothing.

“Our biggest enemy is our own greed,” he said. “Too good to be true is too good to be true.”