Guilford residents are encountering new tactics and new types of harassment from scammers, according to Guilford Police Department (GPD) Sergeant Martina Jakober, using publicly gleaned information and spoofed phone numbers to target vulnerable people.
Though Jakober said she could not say for certain whether scams overall are on the rise during the pandemic, a couple of new practices have been particularly harmful and nefarious in their attempts to swindle people.
One Internet scam, which uses old, stolen passwords and publicly available photos or identifying information from social media and other online sources, attempts to convince people that the scammer has access to compromising material and threatens to send it to friends and family members if they don’t pay up.
Because on the surface all this information seems confidential, victims are more likely to believe the scammer also has webcam footage from the victim’s computer or embarrassing text messages or photos, according to Jakober—but they do not.
“Fortunately most people are not giving money,” she said. “Most people are being very responsive to the warnings we’ve provided…so that’s good. But we get a lot of calls that it’s still continuing.”
A handful of Guilford residents have actually paid the scammers, Jakober said, and there are potentially more who haven’t come forward due to the embarrassment.
Though these types of Internet scams are nothing new, Jakober said identifying the new methods used and attempting to educate people to protect themselves and not engage the scammers is a constant battle, which ends up being “cyclical” as scammers find new tactics.
One particularly disturbing practice that scammers have used recently was to “seek some kind of revenge” when a potential victim saw through their ruse.
Similar scams have also targeted local businesses recently via phone, according to Jakober. When a local business owner last week recognized the scam and “engaged” with the scammer rather than simply hanging up, the scammer simulated the business owner’s phone number using a computer—something that is not difficult to do.
That meant that every time the scammer called someone, it was the Guilford business owner’s number that appeared on the potential victim’s caller ID, making it seem like they were the scammed.
Eventually, that person had to shut down their business phone as people from all over the country misidentified the business as the scammer, calling and swearing or threatening them after having received the scam phone call, according to Jakober.
The scammers can call hundreds of people an hour with their tools, she said. One business owner last week saw 400 calls with her cell phone number go out just during the time it took to report the scammer to the GPD.
“It can really destroy these businesses,” Jakober said. “They’ll spoof the number and they’ll make your life really difficult.”
It is incredibly difficult to track or identify the real source of the scams, according to Jakober, as they use proxy software and other tools to make sure their location is not easily traceable. Many are not based in Connecticut or even in the United States, she said.
The best thing to do is always hang up, ignore, or report anything suspicious or threatening messages to the GPD, according to Jakober. Some phones have the ability to block repeated calls from the same number, which can be helpful, though Jakober warned many scammers will simply change their own number again and continue calling.
The Guilford Police Department can be reached at 203-453-8061.
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