A Pagosa Springs woman was recently scammed out of approximately $2,000, bringing to light the need for individuals to maintain a healthy skepticism.
The unidentified woman received a phone call stating she had won prizes including $2.5 million, a Land Rover and $25,000 in cash, reported Det. Scott Maxwell with the Pagosa Springs Police Department.
The hitch, however, was that the woman was asked to send money to the organizations for various reasons (taxes, customs, etc.) in order to receive the prizes.
Maxwell said the woman reportedly sent a total of about $2,000 on five different occasions before realizing it was a scam and filing a report with the PSPD.
The organization was reportedly based in Jamaica, Maxwell said.
Maxwell said there is little recourse once money is wired in such situations.
While certainly not the first victim of such a scheme, the woman’s story brings to light the fact that schemes come in many different forms and may appear legitimate at first glance.
Maxwell said scammers will commonly send a check to a victim that will look authentic and may even include the name of actual companies and account numbers, but will, in fact, be forged.
The victims are then usually asked to return, in cash, a portion of the payment for some reason, such as accidental overpayment, or to send a portion of the money somewhere else.
The victim then cashes the check through their bank account and mails or wires the money, at which point the forged check bounces and the victim loses money because the bank holds them responsible.
“No legitimate organization is gong to require you to pay any cash up front to receive a prize,” Maxwell cautioned, adding no prize winner should pay taxes or customs fees prior to receiving a prize.
Maxwell said scammers contact victims by e-mail, phone, mail or even services such as UPS.
Maxwell also offered caution about other prevalent scams.
“E-bay, Paypal, [and] Craigslist are ripe with scams,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said both buyers and sellers can be scammed through the online services with forged checks for payment, or overseas shippers or individuals sending too much money and asking the seller to forward the money to a private shipper while using fraudulent payment forms.
Maxwell said other scams seek payment for emergency medical treatment for loved ones, often using detailed information about loved ones that can be found on social media sites — causing Maxwell to further caution people to be careful what photos and information are put on social media sites.
The Attorney General’s quarterly Consumer Fraud Awareness Newsletter offered a warning that some Colorado residents are paying more than five times the official cost to obtain certificates through state and local vital records offices.
According to an Aug. 5 press release, Colorado residents have reported paying up to $120 for online services that assist them in completing the application online to receive copies of birth certificates.
By filling out an application at a state or local vital records office (such as San Juan Basin Health Department), individuals pay $17.75.
Online requests can be made through the state health department website or, for those wishing to have help, the state’s official birth certificate service, VitalCheck, for an addition $9.
Maxwell offered simple advice for avoiding scams and schemes: Search on the Internet to see if a given offer is a scam and, if questions remain, call area law enforcement before cashing checks or sending money.