PhotoNot a day goes by in America that thousands of consumers aren't tricked into paying large sums of money to scammers.

These individuals employ all sorts of clever psychological schemes to get intelligent people to suspend disbelief and act against their better judgment. That's why objective observers need to be ready to intervene.

Matthew Drye and Mariah Thomas work at Target, in Mechanicsville, Va., outside Richmond. Earlier this year they were on duty when an elderly couple checked out, purchasing two Target gift cards.

The couple said they needed to place $2,000 on each card. Rather than blindly accept the sale, Drye and Thomas, who were manning the checkout lane, asked the couple why they needed so much money on the gift cards.

Grandpa scam

The couple told the employees an out of state police officer had called them to say their grandson was in jail. To secure his release on bail, the couple needed to place $4,000 on gift cards and then call with the cards' numbers.

Fortunately, Drye and Thomas immediately identified the request as a variation of the "grandpa scam," telling the couple they needed to contact the police, and reassured the couple their grandson was not in jail. In far too many instances, consumers send thousands of dollars to scammers because there are no outside observers or family members to warn them not to.

Hanover County, Virginia Sheriff Col. David Hines this week presented awards to Drye and Thomas, stressing the importance of the business community in stopping scams.

Going above and beyond

“As law enforcement officers, we can’t be in all places at all times," Hines said. "It warms my heart to see our citizens go above and beyond to help each other, which in turn acts as another set of eyes and ears for the Sheriff’s Office."

In spite of the fact that scams are now so common and widely reported, many consumers are still unaware of them and how they operate. It's a problem the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to deal with.

In testimony to Congress last week, FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen and Commissioner Terrell McSweeny outlined what law enforcement is doing to combat scams, but their testimony also revealed the magnitude of the challenge.

They reported that impostor scams, where scammers pretend to be government agents, well-known businesses, family members, or others, are proliferating.

Other widespread and dangerous scams include tech support scams, fake prize and sweepstakes scams, “free” trial offers with recurring fees for products or services consumers never ordered, debt relief scams, and abusive debt collectors.


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