The Worcester County Vulnerable Adult Task Force is pleased to announce the continued efforts of this multi-disciplinary team to educate and raise awareness about common fraud schemes with the “No-Scam November” Initiative. The focus of “No-Scam November” is prevention of scams before they cause financial damage to the victim, as inherent difficulties exist in the investigation and identification of high-tech scammers and in the attempts to recover the victim’s money. Sheriff Matt Crisafulli emphasized allied agency partnership to address these concerns, stating, “We are proud to partner with our allied agencies to help educate our residents about the ongoing scams that victimize them. Education is a key component in the reduction of these crimes, and partnering agencies make our residents much safer.”
In 2020, law enforcement has seen a dramatic increase in the number of reported fraud cases, and senior citizens are the most frequent target. In Worcester County, the most common types of fraud currently experienced are gift card scams. Scammers have been targeting victims either by phone or by email, often claiming that there is an emergency situation the victim must buy gift cards to resolve. The scammer typically then requests the code on the back of the gift card so they can use it online. D/Sgt. Mike Mann, Assistant Barrack Commander of the Berlin Barrack, has seen cases where the scammer claims to be a computer company demanding thousands in gift cards to remove a virus from the victim’s computer. He cautions, "A legitimate computer or software company is NEVER going to demand payment in gift cards. Scammers instead actually send a message to your computer making you think it has a virus and that the only solution is to pay them in gift cards. Don’t fall for it!”
Other common schemes include the scammer claiming to be the IRS, or claiming a family member of the victim has been arrested or needs bail money. In another frequent scam, the victim is told that they have won a contest or prize money, but in order to collect their winnings, they must buy gift cards totaling a small portion of the total prize they will eventually be sent by the scammer. In yet another example, a scammer spoofed the victim’s boss’s email address and sent the victim an email (which the victim believed was from his boss) instructing the victim to go and buy gift cards and then text the codes on the back of the card to a different phone number because the boss lost his phone. The victim did so, believing he was following his boss’s instructions, and only found out he had been scammed when he spoke to his boss in person. Many times, the scammer stays on the phone with the victim while the victim travels to the store to purchase the gift cards, to make sure that the scam is successful and that the victim cannot pause to consider whether they should actually go through with the purchase. Ocean Pines Police Chief Leo Ehrisman warns Ocean Pines residents about these scams, stating, “Residents in our community have unfortunately fallen victim to all of the scams being described. Recovering funds after someone is victimized is very difficult, if not impossible, so being aware of these scams and not becoming a victim is a priority in our community.”
To combat these gift card scams, beginning in the month of November, local law enforcement, to include the Maryland State Police, Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Ocean Pines Police Department, will be conducting community outreach efforts and providing local businesses with free signage, provided by the Office of the State’s Attorney, that can be attached to any gift card display case. These warning signs are designed to shake would-be victims into realizing and recognizing the scam in the moment, especially if they are still on the phone with the scammer, and encourage them to press pause and exercise caution before making a purchase. These signs, along with outreach by prosecutors and police will also help local businesses and shop owners to educate their staff to know the signs of a gift card scam before ringing up the victim’s purchase, and to contact police whenever they suspect a scam.
State’s Attorney Heiser remarked, “The Office of the State’s Attorney is thankful for the continued partnership that lead to this innovative idea for preventing gift card scams. As was our goal last year when we created the Task Force, we will continue to provide this type of outreach and education to the benefit of our senior citizens and shine a light on the issues and problems affecting them.” Businesses wishing to participate in “No-Scam November” can request their free gift card scam signage from either the Berlin Barrack, the Ocean Pines Police Department, or the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office depending upon their location. To report any type of suspected elder abuse, including suspected gift card scams, please contact your local law enforcement agency.