Police urge caution against 'confidence' scams, divulging personal information

Unsuspecting victims have been taken for thousands

April 07, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore police are urging residents to be wary of a series of confidence schemes that have bilked several people out of thousands of dollars and are leading some to be duped into participating in illegal enterprises.

Detectives Robert Elkner and Sarah Connelly of the fraud unit described several variations of the scheme and urged people to not divulge personal information such as bank account and Social Security numbers and dates of birth on the Internet.

One scheme is called "remailing," in which unsuspecting victims become "middlemen" in a shipping enterprise. They answer ads on the Internet and agree to receive packages at home, and then repackage them and send them overseas.

The victims pay shipping and receiving costs, and sometimes upfront fees, out of their own pockets, in exchange for checks of up to $25,000. Elkner said the checks turn out to be fake, and the victims are penalized by the banks when they bounce. In addition, police said the items being shipped typically involve stolen electronic equipment.

"They get caught up being part of a criminal enterprise and don't even know it," Elkner said.

Another variation is an email telling the recipients they've won a contest. The sender typically requests that the "winners" send checks for $1,500 or some other amount to get their reward, which they are old is between $15,000 and $25,000. The victims are also asked to fill out a detailed form containing personal information such as Social Security numbers and marital status.

Connelly said people who fall for that scam are victimized twice. They lose the money they send and either never receive promised winnings or get a check drawn on a fake bank. And they've given up enough information to become victims of identity theft.

The detectives said one Baltimore woman filed a complaint as recently as Wednesday involving a fake contest. She had been directed to send $1,500 to an address in Turkey.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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