Scams rise in Northern Nevada

The scammers just won’t let up.

Their come-ons, deceptions and sophisticated techniques to separate Northern Nevadans from their hard-earned savings are proving to be increasingly bold and successful.

Take, for example, the case of the elderly local woman who received a telephone plea from a young man pretending to be her grandson, who tearfully told her that he was hospitalized in Spain following an automobile accident and needed money for medical treatment.

The woman immediately wired $2,400 to the person impersonating her grandson. He soon called her back, stating that his doctors required another $2,400, and she sent that money along as well.

She then informed her son that she had wired the money for her grandson’s treatment, but be told her that the boy not only was not in Spain but was at work at his job in San Francisco.

“The scam artists who took this unfortunate woman’s money had accessed an Internet video innocently posted several weeks earlier by her grandson, and they were able to mimic his voice when they telephoned his grandmother and trick her into believing she was actually speaking with her grandson overseas. The woman has lost nearly $5,000 and there is no way she can retrieve it,” according to Tim Johnston, president of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Northern Nevada.

The ruse perpetrated on the grandmother is called the “Grandma Help!” scam, and is one of several assorted schemes currently being foisted upon unsuspecting Nevadans and thousands of others across the nation that earned the scammers an estimated $1.4 billion last year, Johnston said.

This $1.4 billion estimate provided by the Federal Trade Commission is undoubtedly too low, stated Johnston, because many victims conned by scammers are reluctant to admit they have been “had.”

“Many people who lose money to scammers are embarrassed to acknowledge to their families, friends and law enforcement officials that they’ve been ‘taken,’” Johnston added.

They’ve lost thousands of dollars to the scam artists, and they keep their losses to themselves because they believe they’ve been shamed and humiliated into falling for the scammers’ subterfuges and trickery, he said.

As the cunning and cleverness of the scammers spread across the state, the BBB of Northern Nevada has issued a “Top Scams Alert” which describes some of the other frauds that, like the “Grandma Help!” scam, are perpetrated via the telephone, Internet and the mails.

One of these, Johnston said, is the “Sweepstakes” or “You Are a Winner” scam. This involves the victims receiving receiving a text, phone call, e-mail or Facebook message informing them that they have won a huge cash prize in a contest, but they must pay a large “fee” to receive it. The victims, of course, have won nothing, there was no “contest,” and the con man walks away with the fee money.

Another scam on the BBB’s alert list is the “Invisible Home Improvements” scam, and it relates to shoddy or nonexistent workmanship by unlicensed and untrained workers who notify homeowners they “are in the neighborhood” and will make repairs to their roofs or replace sidings at a low price, but that they must be paid upfront before the work begins. The bad guys pocket the cash, work on the house for an hour or so, and then flee.

Another scam that is growing in popularity is the “Casting Call” scam, and it features con artists posing as talent scouts looking for actors, dancers, models and reality show contestants. The scammers demand up-front money for photographs, “fees,” and “casting calls,” but vanish into thin air when they receive the victims’ cash.

A further scam known as the “Smishing Scam” involves phony text alerts from crooks posing as bank officials who ask their victims to confirm their credit card, banking, Social Security, ATM and PIN information. Once this information is gained, the scammers use it to withdraw money from the victims’ banks and assume their identities for other nefarious schemes.

Another ruse is the “Fake Friend Scam” that involves scammers conducting text or Internet conversations with unsuspecting friends they have met on Facebook. The scammers “romance” their vulnerable and often-lonely victims and pry personal, banking and credit card information from them. This scam is related to the “On-Line Dating Scam” in which the scammer, who professes love for his or her victim, asks for money to buy an airplane ticket to the victim’s hometown, expensive clothes and jewelry. Here again, the unsuspecting and vulnerable are deceived, robbed of their money and embarrassed to admit they have been fooled.

How can people protect themselves from these swindlers?

Be suspicious of any request for money or personal financial information that comes from strangers via the Internet, telephone, mail or text messages. Use common sense when dealing with these strangers. Most of the the time, they are out to cheat and fleece you. And keep your personal information personal, advises Johnston.

Johnston and his staff at the BBB of Northern Nevada may be contacted at 775-322-0657, by mail at their office at 4834 Sparks Blvd., Suite 102, Sparks, NV 89436-8157 and their website at


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