EAGLE RIVER - Phone scams are cyclical, said Keweenaw County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Bill Luokkanen. And over the past month, they've been on an upswing.
The forms they take vary. Sometimes people purporting to be family members will call and say they need money wired to them. Some callers represent themselves as being from a lottery or sweepstakes. Recently, Luokkanen said, there have been more cases of people claiming to be from a legitimate business, such as an insurance company or a bank, trying to extract personal information from people.
"The more people talk, the more information they tend to give out," he said. "If they can get financial or personal information, they can set up credit card accounts or eBay accounts. They'll use the bogus credit card accounts to make purchases online, is what we're seeing a lot of."
Bringing the perpetrators to justice can be difficult. Many of the scams originate in foreign countries such as Jamaica, Nigeria or Canada. Most calls are routed through anonymous computer banks.
The cost of prosecution is also an obstacle. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation will go after bigger cases, most scammers are aware of this and stay around the $1,000 mark, Luokkanen said.
The best thing people can do is to avoid getting caught up in the scam altogether, Luokkanen said. That means not giving out any personal information.
"If someone calls and says 'I'm from Superior National Bank and we need your Social Security number for your account,' it's a scam," he said. "They would never do that. Never contribute to charities soliciting over the phone that you're not associated with. No legitimate organizations or companies would ever ask that you pay to receive a prize."
In one recent case, a resident was contacted by someone claiming to be from their insurance company asking for information such as their account number to assist with billing information.
Callers may be able to project an air of familiarity thanks to search engines and Google Earth, which can allow them to find out basic personal information and details such as the location and appearance of a person's house. In some cases, the scammers have told residents one of their relatives is in trouble. If they don't help, the residents are warned, "we'll send someone to come get you."
If anyone suspects they're being contacted by a scammer, Luokkanen said to hang up and contact the Sheriff's Office for assistance at 337-0528.