And the holidays provide a target time for unscrupulous people to prey on those in a giving frame of mind, according to Lt. Mark Bennett of the Sheriff’s Department.
“Fraud and scams are very prevalent in Ottawa County,” Bennett said.
Bennett spoke at the November meeting of the local Counterpart group at the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake.
Last month, an area resident lost $12,000 to a Jamaican lottery scam, Bennett said. The trusting victim was told they had won more than $100,000, but had to pay a "tariff" before getting their "winnings," which they never received.
“Perpetrators prey on trusting people,” Bennett said. “I’ve been a cop for 27 years and I’m skeptical. Most people don’t have that skepticism.”
One of the more popular scams is what Bennett calls the “grandma and grandpa scam.” The grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be a grandchild abroad and in need of money. The scammer instructs the grandparent to go to a store, usually Walmart, and obtain a debit card, then call back and give them the number.
Another place for unsuspecting people to lose money is through Craig’s List — where Bennett said a person might list a dining set for sale for $800, agree to a $500 purchase price, and then end up with a check for $5,000. The purchaser tells the seller to cash the check, take out what they are owed and send a check for the remaining money back to purchaser.
“By the time the bank figures out that $5,000 check is fraudulent, you’re already out your money,” Bennett said.
A lot of people have become savvy to many of the scams.
“But if they entice 1 percent of people they call, they make good money,” Bennett said.
The detective said these scams are very difficult to prosecute because most of them originate from outside the country. A lot originate from Africa, the Caribbean and Canada.
Still, people should report the scams and attempts to police so they can be properly tracked and handled by the authorities.
Bennett said information on identity theft and fraud is available on the Sheriff's Department page on the Ottawa County website. Click here. There, you'll find an identity theft packet with information on prevention. It also walks you through what to do if you have been victimized.
People can also call Bennett at 616-738-4003 with their concerns.
The holiday season is also the open enrollment time for Medicare — and, according to North Ottawa County Council on Aging Executive Director Brigit Hassig, it provides identity theft opportunities.
“This brings out an opportunity for individuals to contact seniors,” she said. “There are attempts to steal identity.”
To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.