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POLICE SEE MORE SCAMS ON INTERNET
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
They appear in e-mail inboxes, in the trays of fax machines, and even sometimes with large multi-colored stamps in the mailbox.
They usually start with a line something like, "Request for urgent business relationship," either in all capital letters or followed by several exclamation points.
And the foreign letters don't seem to be very effective as a scam tool, at least not in Northeast Oregon.
Identity theft and scams are steadily increasing locally, La Grande Police Detective Phil Myer said.
He is one officer who sees scam letters regularly. He advises anyone getting them not to open them, but to throw them away and generally ignore them.
"Do not respond," he urges, to these so-called opportunities.
The letters generally come from South Africa or Nigeria, and there seems to be a recent rash of them. They ask people for their bank account numbers, so that a large deposit usually millions can be made, with the account holder supposedly getting a percentage of the total for use of the account.
La Grande business people have received these letters, and even the police chief, Myer's boss, got one via e-mail. Some people have brought copies to the police.
But the reality, Myer said, is that since the letters originate out of the country, "nobody's interested in prosecuting."
And since there have, so far, been no local victims who have reported being defrauded, Myer said that the matter has not been viewed as a priority.
But while the foreign letters haven't drawn high levels of concern, other problems of scams and frauds closer to home are getting attention.
Myer said that there have been local cases of people being defrauded through the Internet, mostly of "very small amounts of money," and most involving operations based along the East Coast.
However, Myer added that officials recently determined that a man in Union County was offering items for sale through the Internet, collecting the cash from buyers, but then not providing the merchandise, if he ever even had anything to sell.
Since there were no local victims, no prosecution was pursued.
But the lesson to consumers is to be careful, Myer said, and never completely trust even secure web pages.
Union County officers don't hear just about Internet scams, though.
Myer noted that a La Grande business recently discovered that someone had gotten the business's bank account number, printed checks using the number, and were writing checks on the account in Washington state.
Within the past week, police have received reports of attempted credit fraud using bank account information. Stolen checks, bank deposit slips, misplaced driver's licenses, Social Security cards and credit card receipts can all be used by thieves to steal bank accounts and identities.
Myer can only advise extreme care about giving out personal and financial information, and asks people to be patient when clerks ask to see identification. In the case of local businesses, he said, it can be frustrating for regular shoppers to be asked for some form of identification, but that step might save someone thousands of dollars and stop a thief from being able to cash a stolen or forged check or credit card.