The following is written by Covington reporter Eric Mandel:
When the sales are announced and the wallets come out, there’s always one safe bet: Tis’ the season for thefts and scams.
“There are a lot of vulnerable people out there,” said Covington Police Chief Kevin Klason.
Crimes typically increase across the nation during the holiday season. The mix of alcohol, depression, heavy shopping and family obligations can produce a piteous blend. Large and small cities alike face this increase in nefariousness, be it bank robberies and murders or mail theft and phone scams. Area law enforcement officials say the spike locally is centered on the latter of those crimes — specifically scams.
The Federal Trade Commission says thousands of people lose money to phone scams every year, from a few dollars to life savings.
The Bonney Lake Police Department warned its residents of a phone scam reported by several citizens that involved an automated phone call falsely identified as being from the City of Bonney Lake. The recording tells the resident that he or she has an outstanding unpaid balance for bills through the city and asks for credit card information to settle the bill. Bonney Lake Police Officer Daron Wolsher said the city of Bonney Lake will never call or send an automated call over the phone to ask for money or credit card info to settle an unpaid bill.
“We ask that if you get one of these calls to not provide any personal or financial information, immediately hand up the phone and then call the police to report it,” Wolsher wrote in a press release. “We also ask that if you are unsure if you owe money to the city, please contact the city of Bonney Lake directly to verify.”
Wolsher said other area phone scams involve a supposed utility company employee asking for a payment. There is also the nationwide scam that claims the victim has an outstanding arrest warrant and that financial information is needed to avoid arrest.
These potential dupes are also seen in Black Diamond. Sgt. Brian Lynch, with the Black Diamond Police Department, said the scams range from fraudulent claims of winning money, to alleged charitable organizations asking for credit card information, to someone from the IRS claiming he needs a social security number.
“You’d think if someone’s calling from the IRS, he would already have your social security number,” Lynch said. “I always tell people you can’t identify people over the phone unless you call the agency.”
Although the primary targets for scams are typically the elderly, that’s not always the case.
A Covington woman was recently bamboozled out of hundreds of dollars in an internet scam, sending money via wire transfer to an individual posing as a potential love interest, according to Klason.
Klason said the female was online dating at sugardaddy.com. Klason said the woman sent money on at least four occasions and “will never see the money again.”
“This person was in need of help,” Klason said. “She claims there was no love interest on her part but this person managed to con her and gain her trust. She started to fall for the individual to the point where she sent quite a bit of money overseas… to a charity I’m sure does not exist.”The Covington woman was not alone.
A report released in July by Ulstrascan Advanced Global Investigations that looked at the infamous Nigerian SCAM – or, more technically, Nigerian 419 Advance Fee Fraud statistics, concluded that smart people are easier to scam. The report stated that high-achieving professionals are the most likely to be defrauded and that losses from Nigerian scams totaled $12.7 billion in 2013. These scams account for $82 billion in losses to date.
Klason said the main principal to remember when dealing with scams is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“There’s a lot of variations that are out there,” Klason said. “They’ll try anything. These people don’t have any kind of scruples. Whatever it takes to convince someone to send money. They will say anything they think will work.”
Besides the anonymous swindles, there are a number of in-person thefts that pick up near Christmas time.
Package thefts are typical this time of year in Bonney Lake and Black Diamond, according to officials. The number of UPS and Fed Ex packages stolen from front porches typically spikes this time of year, thanks to the proliferation of online holiday shopping, Lynch said. In an attempt to stifle those thefts, Lynch said day time officers will spend extra time patrolling neighborhoods, rather than in the artilleries. Still, he said police need the public’s help.
“We all know who lives here and who does not fit,” he said.
When asked about the potential for profiling and safeguarding against it, Lynch said the 911 dispatch screeners do a “great job” of asking callers why the individual seems out of place.
“We tell people it’s better to err on the side of caution,” Lynch said. “Even if it’s nothing at least we know it’s nothing.”Lynch suggested contacting neighbors when packages will be sent.
Maple Valley Police Det. Jason Stanley said that even though the city’s median income sits in the upper-middle class, the city sees its fair share of holiday packages stolen from front porches and shoplifting.
“It seems like criminals get kind of desperate, maybe to fill their own holiday obligations,” Stanley said.
According to the Maple Valley Business Watch newsletter, shoplifting costs US businesses approximately $16 billion every year, with about one out of every three new businesses failing because of the effects of shoplifting.
Experts estimate that the average family will spend three hundred dollars every year to subsidize the cost of what shoplifters steal.
Although Maple Valley has seen an increase in adult shoplifting, according to the newsletter, teens are often the perpetrators of shoplifting.
When a store owner or law enforcement has reasonable cause to suspect that a person has shoplifted, they usually have the legal right to detain them. When a teen commits theft their parents will be contacted, they will have to return the items, and they probably will not be allowed to enter that store for at least a year.
Klason said there are instances where the shoplifters and thieves are found to be desperate parents with limited resources and want to do something for their kids. He said police try to steer those individuals to social services and food banks. But, by and large, Klason said, these thefts are for selfish gain.
“A majority (of thefts) are for themselves or to turn it around — pawn electronics for cash,” Klason said.