More than 33 million Americans have fallen victim to identity theft over the past two decades

Con artists come and con artists go, but the scam will go on forever.

It's a hard, cold fact that people living in the 21st Century must come to realize. Those armed with the right knowledge and a little common sense, however, could avoid falling victim to the tricks crooks play to swindle people out their money.

More than 33 million Americans have fallen victim to identity theft over the past two decades, and that number grows constantly as con artists develop new tricks and tactics of deception.

Clark County Sheriff Jason Watson, a longtime officer of the law whose background includes work in criminal investigation, often presents seminars to offer tips on how to keep scams at bay.

There is a scam for all walks of life: from the elderly to those who shop in public malls and from those needing home improvement to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It doesn't matter where you live or what you do, Watson says, as even the common scams that pop up in larger cities eventually trickle down to rural communities.

One popular scam deals with foreign lotteries. Watson said the con artist usually is someone overseas who claims to have won a lottery and wants to share a portion of it. "They'll need to wire some money back to a certain account, and they need you to help them. If you can send them the money to get over here, the money will be at the bank and you both can split it up." Naturally, though, the money the victim puts up is put into the account, never to be seen by the victim again.

In another scam, the con artist will drive to the victim's house with a load of asphalt or roofing supplies — which he says was left over from a previous job and is looking to get rid of it for a discounted price. "He'll ask you for payment before he completes the job," Watson said. "Once you pay him, he might dump some asphalt or shingles and leave, for good, with your money."

Simply put, "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true. Be leery of anything that sounds too good to be true," Watson said.

While con artists prey mostly upon gullible elderly, they also find ways to trick the bereaved or giving. Most of the scams are committed in larger cities. Although Watson's constituents live in rural southwestern Arkansas, he still informs them of all the scams since crime "always trickles down."

"There's the obituary scam," Watson said. "The thief preys on the grief of a loved one." The scam artist disguises himself as a minister who wishes to council the bereaved.

Once he makes entry into the house, he might ask to use the restroom. "He takes that opportunity to try to steal anything." This type of con artist usually reads the obituaries in the newspaper. If someone well known or with a large family perishes, the thief will know the out-of-town relatives will be traveling to the funeral with cash and jewelry. Looking at the obituary, the thief will know what time the funeral is so he can make a visit to the deceased's home and burglarize the place.

Then there are charity-related scams that Watson said are growing in popularity and are easy to carry out since the victim usually will give to charity. "The swindler might call and identify himself as being with a law enforcement agency that is trying to carry out a fundraiser," Watson said. "The Clark County Sheriff's Office does not solicit any funds over the phone, and I don't know of any agency that does. In fact, we had somebody call the sheriff's office last week asking if we were collecting money for teddy bears." Obviously, the CCSO was not trying to sell teddy bears, and Watson applauded the could-be victim for reporting what was likely a scam.

Calling to report potential scams helps law enforcement know what scams are popping up in their community, arming them with information to get the word out to the public in order to keep others from falling victim. "Use your best judgment — if it doesn't feel right, call us," Watson said. "It's best to be safe than sorry in the world we live in."

The sheriff offers tips on how to avoid falling victim to scam.

• If anyone comes to your home: "A) You don't have to let them in, and B) call us immediately. It's our job. The deputy will escort the person off the property, and this helps to identify these people and build an intelligence file."

• Be very skeptical of any solicited claims of home improvements. "Don't rush in to sign a contract. If it's that good of a deal, it'll be that good tomorrow, also."

• Watch out how much personal information you input into your computer or put out over the phone.

• Always report potential scams. "Don't neglect to pursue it just because you feel embarrassed. These people are professionals — lying is what they do for a living."


Who to call

Arkadelphia/Gurdon/Clark County

Arkadelphia Police Dept.            870-246-4545

Clark Co. Sheriff                        870-246-2222

Gurdon Police Dept.             870-353-2211

Heber Springs/Cleburne County

Heber Springs P.D.             501-362-3661

Cleburne Co. Sheriff            501-362-8143

Helena-West Helena/Phillips County

Helena-West Helena P.D.            870-572-3441

Phillips Co. Sheriff            870-338-5563

Hope/Hempstead County

Hempstead Co. Sheriff            870-777-6727

Hope Police Dept.            870-777-3434

Eighth Judicial District-North Prosecuting Attorney                        870-777-0900

Prescott/Nevada County

Prescott Police Dept.            870-887-6779

Nevada Co. Sheriff            870-887-2616

Stuttgart/Arkansas County

Stuttgart Police Dept.            870-673-1414

Arkansas Co. Sheriff             870-673-2121

Bastrop/Morehouse Parish

Bastrop Police Dept.            318-281-1322

Morehouse Parish Sheriff            318-281-4141

Helena World — Helena-West Helena

Phillips Co. hit by sweepstakes scam

Sheriff Deputy David Lawman reports that the most recent money scam in this area, concerns winning of a large amount of money. 

Lawman told the Helena World that the latest scam involves a con artist who reports that you have won a cash prize in the amount of 2.7 million dollars. 

The con then requests that the victim go to a local retailer purchase a money card and load it with a certain amount of money reported to be close to $500. The card must be turned over to the con before they give you your prize.

Lawman reports that residents need to be aware that this scam is currently circulating throughout Phillips County and that calls are being made using a blocked number.

The Phillips County Sheriff’s Dept urges anyone that has become a victim to this latest scam, or has suspicions that they have been contacted by these individuals, to contact their local law enforcement agency.

Nevada County Picayune — Prescott

Homeowners duped in Nevada Co.

A homeowner scam is going around Nevada County.

Recently, according to Nevada County Sheriff Danny Martin, two men approached a homeowner about caulking the gutters around his roof. The men quoted a price of $54 per unit, which, Martin said, was thought to be the cost of a tube of caulk. The owner was told it would take 30 units to do the job.

The homeowner apparently asked the two men to wait, but they were insistent they begin the job immediately, even without the homeowner's approval.

When the owner went to call his daughter, the two apparently thought he was calling law enforcement, made an excuse and left.

Bastrop Daily Enterprise — Bastrop, La.

Bastrop woman ‘wins,’ loses $4,000

It started with an excited, unexpected phone call, but then ended with the helpless wait on the limousine and cash that never arrived.

Telling Faye Jones, 82, she was the winner of a $450,000 lottery drawing, crooks caused the Bastrop resident to become another victim of a kind of crime whose culprits are faceless and rarely, if ever, prosecuted.

“I generally enter Publisher's Clearing house, and that's how I was duped,” she said, noting that she never forwarded her Social Security or bank account information. “They are smart. They convince you and are very cunning.”

According to the Better Business Bureau, sweepstakes and lottery scams rank no. 2 on top 10 scams in 2012 for people to watch out for, right behind job hunter scams.

By the time that Jones became aware that there were no lottery winnings, after she had forwarded continual money orders to cover transference fees and taxes the criminals convinced her she must pay up front before receiving her award, the local sheriff's department could not do anything to help.

Jones said that as her resentment eases, it's been replaced with the intention of making others aware of her trial.“My main thing now is that I want others to know about this,” she said.

Stuttgart Daily Leader — Stuttgart

SPD reports debit card scam

The Stuttgart Police Department received approximately 30 calls in mid-June from local residents saying they received a pre-recorded phone message that their debit card had been deactivated. The message then asked those on the line to reactivate their card by entering in their card number.

The calls came from at least eight different phone numbers, which were all logged in the SPD system. One police report was filed for someone who did enter their card number.

SPD said in all the calls they received, the scammers were using the BancorpSouth name.

According to Bancorp South, the institution would never ask for account numbers or PIN numbers over the phone. They advise customers to never give out their debit or credit card information.

SPD Assistant Chief Steven Bobo said customers of BancorpSouth and non-customers were contacted. He even received the pre-recorded message himself.

The Sun Times — Heber Springs

Scams seem to target the elderly

The latest scam hitting Cleburne County is the Publisher’s Clearing House phone call scam. According to Detective Alan Roberson with the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Department, people receive phone calls saying they have won the Publisher’s Clearing House and that in order to collect their winnings, they have to send a money order of X amount in order to receive their prize.

“This is just a new twist to a basic scam,” Detective Roberson said. “You are informed you won a prize, but in order to claim it, you have to send money. It is hard to convince people that if they won a prize, there should be no need to send money.”

According to Detective Roberson, these scams tend to play on people’s fears. “In our current economy, lack of money can lead people to do desperate things, including sending money to gain more,” he said.

Those these scams will go after anyone, they seem to target the elderly more than anyone else. “We’ve recently seen a scam where people go door to door saying they can help with utility bills by surveying and measuring the person’s house,” Detective Roberson said. “While one is keeping the homeowner busy measuring and jotting down numbers, the second person is stealing money or other small valuables.”

Hope Star — Hope

Blevins man loses nearly $1,500

Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton said a Blevins resident lost $1,425 in the process in a scam lasting more than a month, beginning in May.

“The victim said that he received a phone call from a person who identified himself as Agent Malone, telling him congratulations, that he had won a new car and $225,000,” Singleton said. “He said that Agent Malone told him that all he had to do was send a MoneyGram for $600. The victim said he went to Walmart and sent the first MoneyGram to Pine Bluff, addressed to Brenda Ward.”

As a result, Singleton said the victim received a second phone call in about mid-June, asking that another $600 be sent to the same Brenda Ward in Pine Bluff, and the victim complied. The third call changed things, however, Singleton said.

“This time, he needed to send it to St. Mary, Jamaica, for $100 to a Michael McKenzie,” he said. “The victim said that he was, then, to send another MoneyGram to St. Mary, Jamaica, addressed to Latoya Clarke, for $125.”

In a subsequent conversation on July 3, Singleton said the purported Agent Malone requested another $550, and the victim refused to comply.

“Agent Malone told him that all the money he was sending to them was for a delivery fee, so that he could receive the prize money and the car,” Singleton said.

He said the victim provided the money gram receipts and the Wal-Mart receipts to the Hempstead County Sheriff's Department, and an investigation of the originating telephone numbers and phone numbers to which the money grams were sent resulted in no responses.

“If you receive a call out of the blue telling you that you have won a large sum of money, a vehicle, or anything else, please do not send any money, and report it to your local law enforcement agency immediately,” he added.