You read about this with distressing frequency in our daily recounting of notable law enforcement activities: Yet another mid-valley resident has fallen prey to a scam. Sometimes, the losses might be in the hundreds of dollars. Sometimes, the losses might be in the thousands.

Just within the last week or so, we heard about two  scams victimizing Linn County residents:

• A caller told the Sheriff's Office that out-of-country scammers had targeted his relatives and talked them out of at least $50,000. The scammers contacted the victims by telephone and told them they had won a large sum of money, but had to pay taxes to get the money released. The residents provided the scammer with numbers for gift cards. The large sum of money didn't materialize.

• Another caller, reporting a separate scam, said his elderly mother had lost $13,000.

Just this week, we heard of yet another scam that's making the rounds in the mid-valley: You get a call from someone who says they're with Dish Network. Your receiver is out of date, the caller says (it's more than 3 months old!) and you need to update. It'll cost you a little extra money. (In this case, the intended victim saw through the ruse.)

We read these accounts and we think, "Well, I'd never fall for anything like that. I'd see through it in a second."

And maybe you would. But these con artists are skilled. They understand how to sow confusion and panic in their victims. They're experienced at keeping their victims on the phone to the point where they're reading off the numbers on gift cards.

Remember as well that these criminals often make a point of targeting the elderly, so it's not enough that you have your guard up against scams: You have to be on the lookout for cons that might suck in older family members and friends.

These illegal schemes either play off our worst fears or take advantage of the human desire for a quick score.

What grandparent wouldn't want to help when they get a call from their "grandchild" telling them that they're in jail in another country and need help to get bail? What parent wouldn't panic when they get a call (as did one of the Democrat-Herald's photographers) saying that a child has been kidnapped? (You might be 99 percent sure that you know where your children are, but these scammers work off that 1 percent uncertainty.) And, you know, it might not be out of the question that you owe the government back taxes — and a caller informs you, Internal Revenue Service agents are en route to arrest you, unless you pay up now. It does seem odd that the IRS now accepts payment in iTunes cards, but times are changing.

On the other side of the coin, who wouldn't want to get an unexpected cash windfall in the mail? And if it requires a little investment in the form of "taxes," well, surely the windfall will be many times that. 

New technologies have only made it easier for scam artists: For one example, scammers can fool your caller ID into thinking that it really is the IRS on the other end.

Scams aren't going away; if anything, new variations on old cons continue to sweep through the area. The best way to deal with them continues to be simply to hang up immediately when something doesn't seem right. (Your next call after that should be to law enforcement.)

And keep an eye on your friends and loved ones: Scammers might not have your number. But they have many other numbers to dial. (mm)


An editorial in Friday's newspaper incorrectly reported that the Albany City Council's provision for stand-in councilors had never been used before last week. In fact, the provision had been used three times before last week. (mm)