Routt County Facebook groups are targets for scammers
Steamboat Springs Police Department Sergeant Sam Silva’s best advice is “do not click, hang up, delete and block.”
That’s because any technology platform connected to the internet can be a haven for scammers who want to take advantage of unaware individuals, whether it is a dating website or a local Facebook group. Online scams have “increased substantially since COVID happened,” Silva said.
If Yampa Valley residents reported all potential internet or cell-phone based scam attempts, law enforcement would be inundated with thousands of situations, Silva said. Since the vast majority of scammers originate from outside of the country, law enforcement personnel have little recourse, he said.
“We won’t open the case and investigate if there is not a loss,” Silva said. “Just because you get one (communication) and you realized it’s a scam, we are not going to take a report on that because it’s so common.”
With advances in scammer technology and the pandemic prompted high internet use, fraud schemes have flourished.
According to a report by the AARP BankSafe Initiative, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the rate of elder financial exploitation has more than doubled.
Silva teaches common tips about how to avoid scammers during presentations available upon request. He warns if anything seems off with an internet-related transaction, back out and stop communicating.
Trying to trick the potential scammer also does not work.
“The more you talk, the better chance they have of getting information or scamming you. Just hang up, delete or block,” Silva said.
Some red flags to identify a potential scammer include misspellings, improper English, vague or no answers to questions, not agreeing to meet in person, or not sounding familiar with the local area. Yet, scammers may use the trick of naming a local hotel, Silva said, because that information is easy to find.
Scammers may ask for payments via less secure or untraceable means such as gift cards, cashier’s check, money order, temporary prepaid cash card, PayPal or cash-transfer applications such as Venmo.
Law enforcement officials say stick with the familiar advice of meeting in person at a public place and dealing in cash.
“It limits your clientele, but any time you ship, you are risking not getting paid. Or if you are buying and you send money, there is no guarantee you are going to receive what they are selling,” Silva said.
Well-worn scams are still rampant in the Yampa Valley. Scammers use online dating sites to tell their supposed match they want to meet but need money sent to them so they can travel. Checks are written for over the asking price, then the check sender asks the recipient to return the overpaid money.
“Just because the check is accepted by the bank and shows deposited does not mean it’s real,” Silva noted, as scammers know banking processes can take multiple days.
Scammers copy real housing ads from Craigslist to take advantage of people desperate for housing who then send deposits. Even contacts made through local well-established Facebook groups or newspaper classified ads that also appear online can lead to scams.
“Because of the (search) technology and the internet, they are able to reach out everywhere,” Silva said.
According to the AARP report, “smishing” attempts, or phishing by text where criminals pretend to be legitimate businesses such as banks, increased 58% in the U.S. in 2021. Smishing, named for SMS text messages, uses mobile phone technology to gather personal information. The report also showed a five-fold uptick in losses from romance scams, with perpetrators stealing more than $547 million in 2021.
Patrol Sergeant Aaron Arsenault with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office said other red flags for online scams include items that look nice but are priced too low or when a seller does not know product details. Arsenault said he uses Facebook to sell or buy items, but first he clicks on the Facebook profile of the person to verify they are a legitimate local.
Sheriff’s department officials advise if residents believe someone is trying to scam them, send a reply such as, “I know this is a scam, and I have reported you to the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.” Then delete all messages and block the sender.
Silva warns not to give out a home address over the internet. The police sergeant sells items through local Facebook groups, but he first asks for the potential buyer’s first and last name and sets up an in-person meet in public.
Many people can be embarrassed by being taken advantage of by scammers and do not report the situation, Silva said. But if actual property or money loss occurs, law enforcement officer will take an official report.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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