Attorney general warns businesses of scams

June 30, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

A quotation that accompanied a story in yesterday's Carroll County edition was wrongly attributed. Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman made the statement.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Local business people should beware of solicitations that resemble bills and invitations to advertise in labor union publications, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran told the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce yesterday.

Both scams, which are occurring more frequently in Maryland, involve businesses that may or may not exist. The perpetrators try to fool consumers into buying their services, he said.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

In the billing scam, the bill-like advertising usually tells the consumer that it is an invitation to buy in very small print. The company's finance office accidentally pays the bill and eventually receives 1,000 pencils, 500 light bulbs or some other product the business has accidentally bought.

"This is not outright fraud," said Mr. Curran. "But you are receiving items you haven't contracted for and might not need."

The other scam involves a letter from an obscure or nonexistent union that asks a business person to advertise in its publications, claiming that many of its members live in the area.

"You may want to advertise with the bona fide AFL-CIO," Mr. Curran told the chamber members. But he advised them to call the AFL-CIO after receiving such solicitations to make sure the union and the advertising is real.

"If you feel comfortable after talking to them [the AFL-CIO], then do it," Mr. Curran said.

In a related interview yesterday, Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said being aware of possible scams and dealing primarily with local businesses helps protect consumers from fraud.

"Most of the local people are reputable and know you can get your hands on them if they rip you off," he said. "If they're from out of state, it's difficult to catch them."

Mr. Hickman said his office has successfully prosecuted scam artists coming into the county from other areas.

In 1989, two county residents who had been deceived in a driveway paving scam received restitution, he said.

The false pavers usually target senior citizens who own their homes. The scam artists tell residents they have asphalt left over from a previous job and will blacktop their driveway for about $1 a foot. After shoddily paving the driveway, the pavers will present a bill for $1 a square foot, which often comes out to $3,000 or $4,000, Mr. Hickman said.

"When the victim balks, the pavers become physically threatening," he said. "They demand immediate payment and will drive the victim to the bank to cash a check and give them cash."

Mr. Hickman said local banks usually demand driver's license numbers and addresses before cashing checks.

His office used this information and put the false pavers' descriptions in the National Crime Information Computer system the 1989 case. Several months later, two of the pavers were arrested and paid restitution in exchange for prosecutors dropping the charges, Mr. Hickman said.

"One of the victims thanked me profusely and then returned to my office the next day to thank me again," he said. "She was stunned and had thought she would never get her money back."

Another local scam, in 1974, involved a group of Gypsies from the Chicago area, Mr. Hickman said.

As the group traveled through Carroll County, an older woman would go to the front of a house to ask the target for a drink of water while a younger woman would enter from the back to steal the family's jewelry and money.

Several members of the group were arrested on conspiracy charges, Mr. Hickman said.

He agreed to drop the charges if they paid $8,000 restitution to local victims.

The group promised not to return to Carroll, but came back in 1987 to steal money from grocery store cash registers after diverting the attention of the cashiers.

This time, the defendants pleaded guilty to criminal charges and were given probation, Mr. Hickman said.

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