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Tips for spotting and avoiding scam messages

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Over twenty-five hundred scam and robo-calls have been reported to the Michigan Attorney General’s office so far this year - but officials say that’s only a fraction of the number of fraudulent messages sent out each day.

Officials say scam artists are just as crafty and dangerous as ever.

Truecaller, a caller ID and spam blocker application released a report earlier this year that found about 56 million Americans lost money to scam calls.

Stephanie Grace of the Attorney General’s Office said little can be done to prevent receiving fraudulent messages. Scammers may easily scour the internet for phone numbers and email addresses on social media pages or in leaked data from companies that use computer systems.

Knowing how to spot a scam is the easiest way to keep from being scammed, she says. That starts by deciding whether or not to pick up the phone for an unrecognized number. Grace said it’s always best to let it ring

“If people are not expecting someone to call or that caller is pushy, demanding, threatening, they need to hang up,” Grace said. “If they're asked to provide money in any form, they should hang up.”

Scam artists use phone calls, emails and more to defraud thousands each year. Sometimes, it’s a telemarketer trying to solicit money for fraudulent investments. It could be an email saying you won a lottery you never entered.

Scamers can pose as government officials, contractors or even children and grandchildren.

State officials categorized the various types of scam incidents in a document called “Recognizing Scams” by Reinventing MI Retirement.

Grace said scammers will ask the victim to send money using methods law enforcement cannot trace. She said gift cards have become recently common however, cash payments and wiring services like Western Union or MoneyGram are also used.

“No one should ever provide financial or personal information, including their social security numbers or any bank account or credit card information,” Grace said.

The Attorney General has issued a press release earlier this year reminding older residents to look out for the Grandparent scheme – in which a scam artist posing as a grandchild calling from another state or a foreign country says they have been arrested or hospitalized.

Grace said it’s common for scam artists to target the elderly under the assumption they have accumulated wealth than younger people.

“The mature adults typically have more wealth built up over the years, so they have more money to lose,” Grace said. “With the elderly generation, cognitive decline is another key factor for targeting them, as well as social isolation and loneliness.”

Lt. Erich Bohrer of the Traverse City Police Department agreed most scam victims he meets are 60 or older. He said his agency handles at least a few scam incidents a week.

The worst parts of scam incidents, Bohrer said, once the money changes hands victims seldom see it again.

“It’s very hard to track these individuals down. They use several different IP addresses, several different servers, some will even come from other countries. To investigate and follow-up on that is very difficult and very time consuming and does not happen often.”

Even though chances are slim, Bohrer said he’s seen cases where money is returned.

If one wires money to a scam artist, the Attorney General’s Office advises to call the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint.

(The number for the complaint department at MoneyGram is (800) 666-3947. Western Union’s is (800) 448-1492)

If the request for money involved a wire transfer to Canada, Canadian officials in the Anti-Fraud Call Center ask victims to report the fraud at their PhoneBusters hotline at (888) 495-8501 or on their PhoneBuster's website.

Then, Bohrer said, it’s always best to file a complaint with the local police department. Grace said the Federal Trade Commission is another helpful resource.

Michael Livingston is a senior at Central Michigan University majoring in Journalism and International Relations. He grew up in Hartland, a small town in Livingston County. After graduation in 2022, he aspires to take his reporting abroad as a correspondent.