WALLA WALLA -- According to Sandi Olson, the crime victim advocate for Walla Walla County, most people who are approached by internet and phone scammers aren't fooled.
"Seventy-five percent of people realize it's a scam and don't respond," Olson said, adding the other 25 percent "are losing money."
In the Walla Walla Valley in recent years, confidence men took more than $200,000 from one elderly woman alone, Olson said, and another man lost $24,000 to scam artists. According to Olson, they are not isolated victims.
"I personally get five or six (scam reports) a week," Olson said.
There are a wide range of scams that have been reported in the Walla Walla Valley, many originating online or over the phone. One scam involves online dating, where the con artist plays the role of an overseas sweetheart in financial trouble.
Other scams involve false claims that the intended victim has won a lottery, but needs to pay taxes up front.
Tim Bennett, public information officer for the Walla Walla Police Department, said his mother was recently the target of a common scam.
"It was one of the classic scams," Bennett said.
According to Bennett, his mom received a phone call, and a young man said "Hi, grandma, it's me," when his mother answered the phone.
Bennett said most people will guess at a name right away, giving the scammer an opening. Then the scammer will explain they are on a trip somewhere and need to be bailed out of jail, or have a hospital bill they need paid, for example.
"They'll throw anything out there," Bennett said.
Bennett said the scammer told his mother that he had been arrested for drunken driving, and needed $2,400 to pay for damages to a rental car.
Bennett said his mother suspected a scam and the trickster was left empty handed, but too often a grandparents' worry for a family member in trouble will override caution.
Olson added she has also been the target of scams, including a scam that often appears when someone is buying or selling items on Craigslist.com.
The scammers will offer to buy an item, which will need to be shipped. The "buyer" will offer to send a large check, often over $2,000, that the seller needs to cash, then send a portion back or hand over to the "shipping company."
Olson said a check will arrive in the mail, and the seller will cash it, and send the money as requested. A week or two later, the bank will notify the seller the original check was a fake, and ask for the money back.
"This is common," Olson said. "The account holder is on the hook for that (money)."
Olson added that banks have become more careful in recent years, but the phony checks are often very good fakes.
According to Olson, there is no shortage of scams, some involving houses for sale that are palmed off as rental properties, others involving Medicare or Medicaid cards. The common factor is an exchange of money via Western Union, Moneygram and most recently Green Dot money cards.
"If you personally do not know the person who wants your money, don't wire money to anyone," Olson said. "You will never, ever get it back."
Olson added that people can avoid becoming victims if they do their own research. Don't accept the word of someone over the phone, or a website or email address, or a phone number.
"If it sounds off, it probably is," Olson said.
Luke Hegdal can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8326.
Report scams to:
For more information about local scams, or to report potential scams, contact Walla Walla Crime Victim Service Center at 509-524-4526 or your local police department.