Official: Scam reports on rise in Walla Walla

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WALLA WALLA - Local reports of scams are on the rise, according to the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office, including solicitations for fake charities and fraudulent prize claims.

On Monday, Victor Walker, a Walla Walla resident, reported he received four phone calls between Nov. 15 and 19 from various representatives of a bogus "Publisher's Clearing House."

"He knew it was a scam, but he decided to play along," Walker's wife, Dolores Walker said. "He thought maybe if he reported some details it would help combat (the scam.)"

The plan only encouraged the callers to call back multiple times, offering more money.

"It started off at $1.5 million," Dolores Walker said. "By the time (the caller) talked to me, it was $5.8 million."

All the Walkers had to do was send $395 in advance for shipping and handling. At that point, Dolores Walker said, her husband hung up.

"(The caller) immediately called back," Dolores Walker said. "He would not give up. It (was) like trying to deal with a teenager that absolutely refuses to listen to anything you have to say."

The confidence man called back multiple times, according to the Walkers. The calls finally stopped when the couple just hung up on the caller.

These types of calls are far too common, according to Undersheriff Edward Freyer, and becoming more common.

"In my career, I've just seen countless examples of people being victimized ruthlessly by con artists," Freyer said. "I kind of sense the county - this part of the country - might be suffering a new wave of scams. We're being hammered."

There are a wide variety of cons, Freyer said, from phony prize offerings to fake charities. Some even masquerade as official government or law enforcement agencies.

A Walla Walla County resident recently forwarded a bogus email to the Sheriff's Office. At first glance, the email appeared to be from the FBI, down to the official FBI seal and a photo of the very real Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Lamkin.

"The key is they're always asking for fees up front before they can deliver the prize," Freyer said. "Don't surrender fees up front."

Freyer added another all-too-common scam during the holiday season is confidence tricksters pretending to solicit for various charities. In a press release in late October, the Sheriff's Office identified several bogus charities, including Search and Rescue Charities, Needy Children's Shopping Spree and Cancer Exam Network.

"There are just a lot of these semi-legit names that are being used," Freyer said. "I think it has a severe impact on people's desire to give donations."

Freyer said it is important to keep charitable giving local, give to well-known and trusted charities and thoroughly check out all organizations seeking donations.

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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