Port Neches police caution the unwary about innumerable scams

Port Neches police caution the unwary about innumerable scams

A Port Neches woman lost $1,700 to a loan scam a few weeks ago, and it was  $1,700 she couldn’t afford to lose.

She told The Examiner in an interview, though she asked that we not print her name, that her case was one of two cases of identity theft reported to the Port Neches Police Department at the end of December, just two days apart.

“They called me and told me that they could give me a loan,” she said. “Then they told me I had to wire some money.”

She said the callers identified themselves as Daniel, Kevin and David Goodwin from PayDay Loans.

“They were all Indian; none of them were American but they used these names,” she said. 

The men called her several times between Dec. 9 and 14, she explained. Once they told her to wire money because they had no record of her taking out a loan previously. Later, they called and said her Social Security number was listed under a different name and they needed more funds to update this in the system.

She said she wired them money through Western Union at the Walgreens at the corner of Magnolia and Nall a total of four times.

“I even cried and told them I hope this is not a scam. I’m not a stupid person,” she said. She explained that the scammers started off with smaller amounts like $200 or $400, but “the last time they asked me for $700, and I was like no way.”

“I was getting money out of my kids’ accounts,” she said. “They were having me wire it to these weird foreign names in Alabama and different states. They were in California.”

Or so they said. While it might take a Russian hacker to figure out exactly where the calls originated, India isn’t a bad guess. In October 2016, it was revealed that U.S. citizens had been targeted in a tax scam run from call centers in Mumbai where, according to  Indian police, hundreds of workers were trained to speak in American accents in order to steal tens of millions of dollars, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The scammed Port Neches woman experienced  some of the same manipulative tactics firsthand, she said, with the callers giving her compliments and then making high-pressure demands.

“It really pissed me off, just because they were so kind,” she said. “They would tell me, ‘Don’t cry ma’am, you’re such a strong woman.’ I hope they rot in hell.

“It was all … it was just crazy. Finally my family got word that I was doing this, so they stopped me and I quit. I called them back and told them I wanted my money back.”

She finally reported the loss to Port Neches police at the end of December, but not before she had given the alleged scam artists most of her personal information.

“They have everything: They have my bank account, my routing number, my Social Security number,” she said. “So far, they haven’t tried to do anything that I’m aware of. I told them I was going to turn them in.

“My family doesn’t even know all this.”

Sadly, her experience is not unusual.

“A lot of our identity thefts are done online, through the Internet,” said Port Neches Police Capt. Jesse Fournet. “It’s not like somebody’s getting somebody’s identity and they’re going to Market Basket and buying something. It’s usually out of city, out of state, out of country, and they’ll buy anything from merchandise to plane tickets to hotel stays.”

Port Neches police are not able to trace scams from outside the U.S., according to Fournet. It is really up to consumers to protect their personal information, and they can do so in several ways, Fournet said.

“Ways to protect yourself is one, shred your stuff. Buy you a shredder and shred your stuff, burn it, do something. Get rid of it; don’t leave it in your trash. We do have people that pick up trash and they’ll go through it, get numbers and stuff like that out of it.”

He said the Port Neches Police Department has received reports of documents being taken from garbage bags on the street.

“Another thing is run a credit history on yourself yearly. It’s free of charge,” Fournet said. He recommends the site annualcreditreport.com.

“That’s always good because you can see if anything new opened up in your name, and it usually provides a phone number or address of the bank that’s opened in your name,” he said. “That’s something that you should do every year.”

And be wary of phone call scams, Fournet said.

“You get phone numbers from these telemarketers and they’re asking you to confirm your pin or confirm your name or date of birth. Don’t ever tell them your information,” he said. “If they say they’re with the IRS, then you say, ‘OK, then I will call the IRS and find out.’”

Other fraudulent phone calls targeted at older people give the impression that grandchildren are being held by the Mexican government and won’t be released unless funds are wired right away.

“We’ve had a few fall for it,” he said. “Usually they call in the middle of the night where they’re half asleep or half awake.” The scammers pretending to be their grandchildren guess at nicknames like PawPaw or Meemaw to lend realism, Fournet explained.

During online shopping, Fournet recommends using a credit card with a low credit limit and not saving your card number for future purchases.

“Always choose the option to manually put it in every time,” he said. “Don’t let them store your credit card online because all that can be hacked into.”

Some con artists attempt to use forged checks in Facebook groups and websites offering items for sale.

“[That] was another biggie that we were having problems with,” he said. “Say you put a boat up for sale. Someone will send you a text or an e-mail and say, ‘Hey, I love the boat, love the pictures; can I send you a check and have a courier come pick it up?’ They’ll send you a forged check, and you’ll get it, cash it.”

Fournet explained that the checks are usually well above the listed price, and the scammer asks for the extra back in cash.

“They don’t ever come pick up the boat of course, but they’re getting $2,000 out of the deal. They’ll usually offer a little more for your trouble,” he said. “People fall for that all the time.

“They usually can’t spell, their stories are all jacked up, it’s usually an out of state number.”

He also warns residents to be aware of Square lookalike card scanners on phones, gas pump skimmers and fake sleeves on the outside of night deposits. None of those have been reported yet in Port Neches, he said, but he is aware of gas pump skimmers found in Beaumont and a night deposit sleeve reported in Port Arthur.

The top identity theft scams reported to the Better Business Bureau involve tax return fraud, misleading debt collectors, malware-infected mobile devices, social media and medical records, according to the BBB website.

“Virtually anyone can become a victim of identity theft. The key is to do all you can to prevent it by protecting your personal information,” said Jay Sheppard, Dispute Resolution director at the Better Business Bureau Serving Southeast Texas. “Consumers should also be in the habit of constantly monitoring their accounts. In turn, if a breach is detected, immediate steps towards recovery can be taken.”

The BBB recommends placing a fraud alert on your credit reports, filing an identity theft report with local police, closing affected accounts and filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Anyone affected by tax-related identify theft can call the IRS Identity Theft Hotline for guidance at (800) 908-4490.