Sheriff John Puckett said his office was approached last week by a Nickelsville man who sent multiple wire transfers totaling about $20,000 to scammers over a five-day period this month.
The victim furnished authorities with receipts with the dates and amounts of the completed transfers.
The scam reportedly began when the man was contacted and told he had won $1 million in prize money. In order to receive the prize money, however, the scammers told the victim he needed to wire them a $500 processing fee, Puckett said.
After the initial $500 was sent, Puckett said the scammers told the victim, who is in his early- to mid-50s, that a problem had occurred and that he needed to send more funds immediately. Puckett said the man ended up sending a total of six transfers of $500 or more the first day.
As a result of being baited by the scammers, Puckett said the man sent an additional $5000 in wire transfers the next day, before following up with transfers of $4,000; $2,500 and $2,000. After failing to receive any money, the victim contacted authorities.
Because the scam originated outside of the United States, Puckett said there is little local authorities can do to investigate the case or bring charges against the perpetrators.
Puckett said the sheriff’s office has received several reports of similar scams with large prize amounts, or a combination of money and a car, but none involved losses as high as the most recent case.
Puckett spoke about the prize money scam, and others that have been reported throughout the county, during a meeting Monday evening with the Yuma Ruritan Club. Puckett said its one of several meetings he’s held in the last week to discuss the topic with civic groups and neighborhood watch associations.
“As sheriff, I feel it’s my job to make sure people know this is going on,” Puckett said. “We don’t want anyone getting taken advantage of and losing their money to one of these scams.”
Because the cases are so tough to investigate, Puckett said raising awareness and reminding individuals to watch for red flags and use common sense are the most effective ways of combating scammers.
In addition to phone and internet-based cons, Puckett said individuals should be aware of scams like those carried out by corrupt contractors and handymen or ones that involve sending large sums of money to post bail for a relative in another state.
The scams, Puckett said, often target the elderly.
Puckett said legitimate entities will not ask for sensitive information like personal passwords, bank accounts or social security numbers to confirm an individual’s identity. Puckett said red flags should also be raised any time a person asks for money to be wire transferred, especially if they claim they’ll send a larger amount back.
“Most of the scams we see ask for the money to be sent Western Union,” Puckett said. “The transfer is instant, so as soon as they get it, they take it out and put it in another account.”
The most important thing, Puckett said, is for an individual to use their own judgment and not hesitate to say no to any potentially suspicious deal or transaction.
“If it’s too good to be true, don’t take advantage of it,” Puckett said. “If you do, more likely than not they’re going to take your money.”