The chief said he was made aware of the possible scam last Wednesday when he received a call from a woman on West Powell Street who said her aunt had been targeted.
According to the intended victim, she received a call from a young woman speaking Spanish who said she had been involved in a traffic accident and that she had no liability insurance.
The caller told the older woman that she was her niece. Treviño said the caller even knew the name of the intended victim.
The caller said the man with whom she had been involved in the accident was demanding $300, or he would call police to take a report. Because the woman claiming to be the niece said she had no insurance, contacting the police could result in a large fine.
The chief said the aunt became suspicious immediately, picked up her cellular phone and put in a call to her niece.
She immediately learned that the niece was not the person still on her land line. When she told the niece about the call, her real niece immediately went to the aunt’s house, picked up the phone, identified herself and asked the identity of the other woman.
The niece said the woman on the other end of the line hung up the phone immediately.
When the niece looked at her aunt’s caller ID log she found that the other woman has called from a 331 area code, and the log showed the number to be 924-9261.
But when Treviño called that number, a recording announced that the number was no longer in service.
The chief said the resident of another house only a few doors down from that intended victim reported a similar phone call.
In that instance, the caller also claimed to be a relative and asked for money to be sent by a Western Union money order to a certain address, just as the other caller had requested.
But in the second case, the caller even offered to have someone stop by the intended victim’s house and pick up the money.
Treviño said that is what led officers to believe the scam might have been attempted locally.
“From what I hear, it’s happening a lot around Beeville,” the chief said. In most cases, the intended victims realize the caller is not related to them, and they simply hang up the phone.
“They’re phishing,” Treviño said. Phishing is an internet-related scheme whereby criminals are able to obtain critical bank account and identifying information that could allow them to open bank accounts or credit card accounts in someone else’s name. Then the criminal runs up a debt, and the bank or credit card company goes after the victim for payment.
“The scheme basically is identity theft,” Treviño said. In most cases, the victim ends up being responsible for the debt unless he or she has purchased identity theft protection.
The chief said it is not hard for someone to check certain Internet sites to find the names, addresses and phone numbers of potential victims.
Recently, some residents have reported receiving emails from sources claiming to be insurance companies or credit card companies claiming that the intended victim is late on a payment.
The emails contain a link that the intended victim is to contact by email for additional information.
There are a number of steps intended victims can take to avoid being scammed, the chief said.
“Don’t send money,” the chief said, unless the recipient of the call is certain that the person calling is, in fact, who he or she claims to be.
Ask the caller to hang up so that you can call that person back. Then call someone to which the caller claims to be related and make sure the call is legitimate.
Even then, never give out credit card or bank account information. And avoid revealing personal identity information like Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or addresses if the caller does not know the address.
These days, it is easy for scammers to obtain information on strangers. Often, that information can be found on social media, like Facebook. Anyone using social media should take care not to provide too much personal information.
Items like birthdays, addresses and such should not be included in social media profiles.
Ultimately, if an intended victim feels overwhelmed and does not understand what is happening when someone calls, sends an email or makes contact by any other means to ask for money or payment of an unpaid bill or to seek financial or personal information, Treviño said that person can contact his office for assistance.
“That’s why we’re here,” the chief said.
Investigators may not be able to track down the intended violator personally. But they can report the incident to state and federal investigators who might be able to make an arrest.
The BPD can be reached at 358-8100.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.