Magic Jack, a scammer’s aid

Published 8:37 pm Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Perpetrators of scams have a unique ability: to constantly evolve and better the ways to part victims from their money.

For years, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigators have responded to calls alleging fraud from victims of callers claiming to fix a nonexistent computer virus for a fee to more elaborate scams involving “taxes paid” on sweepstakes winnings.

According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, a Chocowinity resident recently reported a phone call in which a man with an accent identified himself as a FedEx employee. The caller attempted to gain the victim’s personal information to pay phony taxes on a package to be delivered. Whereas, the accent might tip someone off, the fact the call appeared to be from the 252 area code, might do the opposite.

It’s an improvement on old methods — a 252 area code assuring the less wary that it’s a legitimate phone call. However, what’s really happening is that scammers are taking advantage of Internet phone-service providers like Magic Jack. With Magic Jack and other services like it, buying a phone number means the buyer can pick the phone number, including the area code. A scammer’s phone number may make it look like he or she is calling from next door, but phone scams of this type often originate overseas, with Jamaica and Canada being hotspots, said the release.

The man in Chocowinity did not fall for the scam. Instead, he notified law enforcement. But another recent victim of a bogus lottery scam in Beaufort County was divested of close $100,000, according to Maj. Kenneth Watson, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

Scammers often prey on the elderly and those who are less technologically inclined.

“The sheriff’s office encourages anyone who receives unsolicited phone calls, emails or letters requesting money, personal identification information or account numbers to notify local law enforcement before completing any transaction,” Watson wrote in a press release. “We would rather you be safe instead of victimized, because money sent to scammers is often not recoverable by law enforcement.”