A Durangoan who was smart enough not to fall for the pitch of an offshore scam artist is only one of the victims or intended victims that La Plata County Sheriff’s investigator Tom Cowing hears from daily.
“It’s getting worse,” Cowing said this week. “We get calls daily about being contacted by people with foreign accents who are responding to a newspaper ad, a craig’slist posting or an eBay offering about goods or services being offered.”
Almost everyone who reports a scam mentions the foreign accent of the caller, Cowing said.
He believes a lot of calls originate in Jamaica.
Irene Barry, who teaches at Aztec High School, was contacted by a man who wanted her to tutor his 14-year-old son this month, starting July 1.
“I don’t know where he found me, although I do contract tutoring for a company,” Barry said in an interview this week. “My bill was going to be $548, but he sent three U.S. postal money orders for $875 each. He told me to subtract my fee plus $50 for the trouble of sending the remainder of money to an address in Pennsylvania.”
Barry said she was instantly suspicious and got no good answer when she asked why he didn’t send the money himself.
Even so, she went to the first tutoring appointment, but her student was a no-show.
“I called the man, who said the student would go until the money was received in Pennsylvania,” Barry said.
She then contacted her bank, where she learned that the money orders were counterfeits.
She called the Sheriff’s Office and was referred to Cowing, who handles most of the scams originating overseas.
If the bank had honored the money orders and later learned they were phonies, Barry would be responsible for the full amount, Cowing said.
But also, she would have been out the amount she sent to the scammer.
“I want my case to be known to alert other people to what’s going on,” Barry said.
Cowing advised Barry to contact the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service because scams involving postal money orders is a federal offense.
One of the latest twists involves Green Dot cards that can be purchased in denominations of $20 to $500 at businesses and used like a pre-paid debit card, Cowing said.
A scam perpetrator will call intended victims with the news that they’ve won a certain amount of money, Cowing said.
The perpetrator says there’s a processing fee due before the money can be sent.
He instructs victims to buy Green Dot cards and send him the pin number on the reverse side of the card, which will allow him to collect, Cowing said.