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Officials warn of Internet scams

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By Calen McKinney

Several computer and cell phone scams are circulating, but Taylor County's law enforcement officials say they haven't received reports that residents have fallen victim to them. And they say they hope it stays that way.

Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette said the Federal Trade Commission keeps a running list of scam alerts for residents to stay in the know.

"I'd rather prevent it from happening than someone get took," he said.

A recent scam targets those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one. In this scam, a person receives an email from a funeral home inviting them to a celebration of life service. While the email looks real and uses logos from funeral homes, Hazlette said a person is directed to a foreign website when they click on a link for more information. And once a person clicks the link, malware is downloaded and scammers have access to information on the person's computer.

Hazlette said he advises residents to simply delete emails they believe are suspicious, because they are often from scammers. He receives scam emails often, and if they aren't from a legitimate email address, they go directly to his junk mailbox.

Official messages will come from legitimate addressees, such as those ending in ".gov" for governmental agency.

"If it don't say that on it, I'd discard it," he said. "Me personally, I just discard it, delete it, and go on."

Other recent scams target people via cell phone. According to the Kentucky State Police, Better Business Bureau officials have said the "one-ring" scam has become prevalent. In this scam, a person misses a call on their cell phone after it rings only once. When calling the number back, a person's cell phone account starts getting charged by the call and minute.

KSP officials have said people are using a computer program originating outside the United States to try and scam cell phone users.

A KSP news release states that residents are being urged to check their cell phone statements to see if they notice any unauthorized charges. Area codes identified by the BBB as connected with the scam include 809 from the Dominican Republic, 876 from Jamaica, 284 from British Virgin Islands, 473 from Grenada, 297 from Aruba and 268 from Antigua.

Hazlette said new scams are being invented all the time to try and steal money from unsuspecting people.

"It's kind of limited to the people's imaginations," he said.

He said the last rash of scams coming through Taylor County were late last year when two women became victims via Facebook and online companion websites. Those types of scammers, he said, prey on elderly people who are just looking for someone to talk to.

"These people are predators," he said. "So they prey on their emotions."

Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton said he has heard of old scams being used with new twists to try and make people believe the situations are real. Newton recently spoke to a church group about scams to help members stay safe.

Scammers often target elderly people because it's perceived that they have money.

"Somebody they think's got a nest egg saved up," Newton said.

Hazlette said some scammers can make emails look official and spin hard-luck stories to get people to open their wallets.

"That's what they are, stories," he said. "If it sounds official, they give it that kind of credence."

It's important to know that emails supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service, like the one he received recently, aren't from the IRS, Hazlette said.

"IRS don't send out emails," he said. "They just don't do that. They're gonna contact you personally or by regular mail."

Scams can also result from social media postings, Hazlette said. Scammers can get personal information from people's profiles and use it to make a story sound real, such as a person's child being in jail and needing money for bail.

"Bottom line is to stay off social media. And if you don't know these people, ignore them."

Newton agrees.

"I wouldn't post anything. People's not gonna do it, but that's my advice."

If people share too much personal information, Newton said, scammers can learn when they are out of town, when a loved one dies and many other situations they can use to their advantage.

"It's out there for anybody to dig in," he said.

Hazlette said scammers used to try and steal money from people by visiting them door to door. But that's completely different now.

"Now, it comes through wires," he said.

And people can create fake social media profiles, Hazlette said, to try and trick people into falling for any number of scams.

"You can put anybody's picture on there," he said.

Those who do fall victim to scams, Hazlette said, could see financial problems come their way. And sorting it all out could take some time.

Catching those who are responsible for the scams could be even more difficult, Hazlette said. The people committing the crimes often aren't from the United States, he said, and most of the time can't be identified.

"We don't even know who they are," he said. "They could be anywhere in the world."

Newton said scams will often lay dormant for a while and then come back up, with scammers thinking people have forgotten about them.

"They just pop up," he said. "Same old scams with a different twist."

To prevent becoming a victim of a crime, Hazlette said people can take some simple precautions.

"Don't share your personal information with anybody other than who you initiate contact with."

Hazlette also recommends that residents check their bank and other statements.

"If there's anything that shows up there you don't know anything about, you need to investigate."

Hazlette said it's also important that residents make sure their wallets aren't stolen while shopping at stores. With identification and credit card numbers, a scammer could quickly steal a person's identity.

"It just shows the lengths people will go to," he said. "It don't take just a second."

Scams typically come in cycles, Hazlette said, the last of which was around the Christmas holiday. But people should always be cautious, he said.

"I don't know that there is a time that they give up."