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Mid-Valley Scam Alert: Infamous 'grandma scam' back, with a twist
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Mid-Valley Scam Alert

Mid-Valley Scam Alert: Infamous 'grandma scam' back, with a twist

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The infamous “grandma scam” is hitting Oregon again, with a bit of a twist.

For those unfamiliar, this scam is where fraudsters call up locals and pose as their grandchild, saying they’ve gotten in trouble and need help getting bailed out of jail. Normally, scammers push for payment via pre-paid gift cards, but this newest iteration is a bit scarier. Scammers instead send a real person to their target’s residence, posing as a “bail bondsmen” who’s there to collect cash.

As the U.S. waits for another potential round of stimulus checks, scammers are out there *smishing.* That is, using text messages to try to steal peoples information and money."It says, 'Karen, you have been accepted for our COVID relief program, you are now eligible to earn $1,472 dollars a day,'" said Karen Manning to Newsy's partner KSHB. "It makes me mad to think about somebody using that to get money out of people." "Look at the attackers as like very smart direct marketers. They go with the zeitgeist. They go with what's happening in the media, what consumers are hearing," said Jacinta Tobin, vice president of Cloudmark Operations at Proofpoint."They're throwing the numbers in these text scams to be very similar to the numbers that the government is promising to get stimulus checks out on. So they are iterating their attacks and they are crafting their messaging to take advantage of the situation," said Neil Daswani, co-director of Stanford Universitys Advanced Security Certification Program. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there's been more than $348 million in COVID-related fraud loss since the start of the pandemic, with roughly $30 million of that coming through text and phone call scams.  Experts told Newsy they expect smishing scams to continue through the pandemic, but that the messaging will shift."What we predict, actually, is that there will be a joint IRS tax return and COVID relief smishing happening. One potential example would be that an attacker would say, 'Get your COVID stimulus payment now before the IRS takes it in a tax bill,'" said Tobin. "As more vaccination centers start opening up, then I wouldn't be surprised if the cyber criminal community starts sending out messages saying, 'Oh, you can now get the vaccine,'" said Daswani.If you get any messages like these, experts say you should look at the content of the message and think through before clicking on any link."The way that the government will get you COVID relief is by direct deposit to your bank account or via a check in the mail. The government's not or shouldn't send out text to you," said Daswani.They also say you should block the number of the scammers, copy the text and forward it to 7726, which spells SPAM. "All the U.S. operators use that to block attacks. They leverage that information to put in filters to block those attacks," said Tobin. "If some of us just go ahead and block the contacts, then that gives the carriers enough information so that they can take steps to not only block that particular scam, but also analyze the forensics of it in detail and build more defense into the automated detection mechanisms as well," said Daswani. 

If people push back on the phone, saying they don’t recognize their “grandson’s” voice, the scammer says that’s because they’ve come down with COVID — or some other illness that’s causing their voice to change.

In truth, this is not how bail even works and it’s certainly not how local law enforcement operates.

For one, Oregon doesn’t even have bail bondsmen. Private bail bondsmen and bounty hunters are illegal in this state, and law enforcement officers definitely don’t have the time or inclination to go knocking on doors to collect bail for random arrestees who call their grandparents.

For another, no matter what reason is given for needing the money — like a wire transfer to fix their car or pay for hospital bills — the smart thing to do is hang up and verify, verify, verify.  

“Don’t assume that’s the (correct) phone number calling you,” said Captain Brad Liles with the Albany Police Department. “You can find out a lot of these things just by doing a personal check.”

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Look for the local sheriff’s office number and call them directly. Ask if they’ve got an inmate by your supposed family member’s name or, at the very least, describe the phone call you just had and they’ll almost certainly point out how illegitimate it is.

If someone shows up on your doorstep, don’t feel like it’s rude to not open the door for them. If they refuse to leave, call the police.

“Don’t be afraid to call the non-emergency line,” said Lt. Ryan Eaton of the Corvallis Police Department. “Our officers will absolutely come to assist in those circumstances.”

While no specific instances of this particular grandparent scam have been reported in the Mid-Valley, the Oregon Bankers Association sent out a warning in late March that scammers were moving to our area and to be alert.

The release provides the following best practices for when you encounter this or other scams:

• Resist the urge to act immediately — no matter how dramatic the story is.

• Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine and check the story out.

• Don’t send cash, gift cards or money transfers — once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone.

• Never open your door for anyone you don’t know.

• Call the police immediately if you have reason to believe you’ve fallen victim to this scam or any other scam.

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