Police warn of holiday scams

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing, and Royal Cayman Islands Police warn holiday gift-givers that means scammers are working overtime.

Sergeant Michael Montague of the Financial Crime Unit said that 2009 financial scams, particularly over the internet, have increased to levels not seen in 2008.

‘I guess desperate times bring desperate measures,’ Sergeant Montague said.

With more people using the internet to do their holiday shopping each year, Mr. Montague said members of the public need to be aware of online scammers more than ever.

‘Internet crooks have no conscience, it does not matter to them if you’re spending your last buck buying presents for your kids,’ he said. ‘If they can scam you, they will scam you.’

Some examples of the more common financial scams used by ‘net shysters:

Cry for help email: Con artists hack into people’s email accounts and send a message to all contacts claiming to be the account holder and stating that they are in trouble overseas. The email asks all recipients to send cash to a money transfer account in another country.

Job offer scam: Residents are contacted by email or an advert is placed in local classifieds advertising a well-paid job or a part-time opportunity which would reap high financial returns. The unsuspecting job seeker will engage in communication with the prospective employer who will then likely send some form of pre-payment or over-payment to the employee. The employer will then request the money back for a ‘family emergency’. The victim is then urged to send some of their own money before the cheque has cleared. The cheque then bounces and the employer is never heard from again. This scam is also used to obtain people’s personal details that can be used for identity theft.

Business opportunity: The victim may receive communication from someone purporting to be a public official offering an opportunity to be involved in a large commercial venture. The offer involves very large financial returns and requires the victim to finance a portion of the contract up-front. The cash will be requested via a money transfer agency and will be for tasks such as legal fees, registration costs, project fees, etc.

Inheritance scam: This scam involves people receiving emails claiming that someone has died and there is an inheritance or estate to collect.

Password and user name: The victim will receive emails, either claiming to be from their account provider or a company that monitors mailbox size, requesting the account holder’s username and password. Genuine email account providers do not ask for this information and people should never give out personal details or passwords to an unknown third party.

Overpayment to a company: Businesses are targeted by potential customers often making large or lucrative purchases or bookings. The ‘customer’ will then request that extra payments are made on a credit card to pay for ‘agent fees’, ‘shipping costs’ or ‘air fare’. The card details given are always bogus. It can be hard to distinguish between genuine and non-genuine emails and faxes. One way of checking is to do an internet search on the names of the organisations or corporations involved and the business is likely to find the latest warnings and advisories about such a scam.

Mr. Montague said the best advice police can offer residents is not to engage in any communication with scam artists over the internet and discard any suspect communications once they are received.

There are steps that residents can take to avoid falling victims to scams.

When shopping online, police urge people to make sure sites are secure and reputable before providing credit card details. Unsolicited e-mails seeking personal information or that ask to fill out forms are extremely suspicious.

Police also advise residents to be aware of exaggerated claims of winnings, earnings or profits. You probably haven’t won a lottery if you didn’t enter it.

If someone contacts you claiming to be a foreign government official, it’s more than likely a scam. Police warn that schemes where large amounts of money are allegedly being placed in foreign bank accounts are also likely to be rip-offs.