Scams Abound In Upstate NY

Jan 12, 2016

Jeragh and Kimberly Powell stand accused of mailing fake documents to elderly people, claiming they'd won prizes but owed fees and taxes before they could claim their winnings. Federal attorneys say they netted tens of thousands of dollars in the scam.
Credit Schenectady PD

You might think with all of the publicity, news reports and public service messages warning about scams, people would be more vigilant — and more suspicious.  But , anyone can fall victim to a scamster.

Recent cases in the Capital Region include an area deejay whose credit card was used to purchase $600 worth of toys at a department store. Luckily, he had signed up for a fraud alert service with his bank, which caught the illicit transaction, saving him from losing funds and possibly bouncing checks written to pay bills.

Even the new bank cards embedded with radio chips are vulnerable to crooks using electronic wands to capture numbers and expiration dates.

The Greene County Sheriff's office is keeping tabs on scammers pretending to be Central Hudson representatives. They call elderly people, threatening to cut off electricity unless the victim "updates" customer records by asking for Social Security numbers and confirm bank accounts.

State Police Troop K Spokeswoman Melissa McMorris:  "I think people should be free to ask questions. They should feel comfortable doing that. I mean, if you're about to give your information, credit card information, over the phone, ask for them to send it in the mail. So that way you know, maybe it'll have a heading or a title on the envelope or on the paperwork, and maybe that'll help you feel a bit more secure. You can do some internet research on the business or one the company. You should just be a little bit more cautious about who you give your personal information. I don't think any legitimate business would be asking for any kind of banking information and demand that it come over the phone."

Even the law is fair game for scamsters: a state police employee got three calls from a company calling itself "ObamaCare Services" wishing to discuss tax information. You guessed it: there is no such organization.

Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley tells the Register Star the Central Hudson scammers unknowingly called him. He traced the number to New York City and found the call was being routed through the city from overseas.

Some con artists have mastered the art of appearing to be legitimate.  Craigslist is a popular service that has a way to go when it comes to policing fraud. Contrary to what you might think, not all scammers live in Nigeria. Some of them are right here in the Northeast.  Craigslist does advise users to avoid scams by arranging in-person meetings with buyers in public places. 

According to fraudguides.com, "Apartment Rental" schemes are the No. 1 scam on Craigslist.  News10 last week reported a woman searching Craigslist for a place to live found a three-bedroom home for rent in Schenectady. She was instructed to wire the rent payment to a woman in California, who promised, upon reciept, to FedEx the keys. The woman got suspicious and went to the address where she encountered the homeowner, who told her the house was not for rent.

Car scams are the second most popular fraud on Craiglist.  Attorney Steve Coffey represented former Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo in a case that had its origins on Craigslist.  Checks Scavo received from a person who wanted to purchase a car turned out to be fake. Scavo had deposited them in a local bank.  Here's Coffey:  "Scavo got a check from a person over at Craigslist, which he is perfectly entitled to do, he's done it in the past. He went into the bank, a bank that he didn't know. They told him to him open an account, which he did. Opened an account. They told him it would take 11 days before the check would clear. OK, no problem. Check never cleared. Person never came back for the car, and he wouldn't have gotten the car anyway."

Scavo was ultimately convicted of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument — and faces a prison term of 2 1/3-to seven years come sentencing February 26th.

If nothing else, the Scavo case and the others cited here exemplify the dangers of dealing with strangers in this digital age.