Martha’s Vineyard Times readers and citizens of the Internet age: beware. This past week, a Tisbury couple came to us because they believed they were victims of a scammer.
The shady character in question immediately messaged the couple selling a boat through The Times Classifieds section. The owner of the boat said he received the text so soon after he posted the advertisement that it seemed to be an automated message from an algorithm.
The suspected scammer, supposedly based out of North Carolina, agreed to purchase the boat given minimal information, and without viewing it in person or seeing a photo. The owners received a check from the scammer for more than the vessel’s sale price, and the buyer requested that the boat owners use the extra money to pay for the boat’s transportation to North Carolina. The buyer used multiple aliases and return addresses located all over the country — from a fashion brand in San Francisco to a furniture chain based in Ohio — in sending the funds.
The scammer refused to speak over the phone, and displayed several other peculiar behaviors. Ultimately, upon being pressured for more information, the scammer gave up on purchasing the boat. The couple still has the check, and does not plan on cashing it.
With all sorts of transactions occurring virtually these days, it’s sometimes difficult to verify whether someone you are corresponding with is a real person, or had good intentions. Unfortunately, every web-based institution is affected by this type of phishing, even The Times Classifieds section. Stay alert when buying or selling items online and when interacting with people you don’t know.
“[Scams] are an almost daily occurrence,” said Edgartown Police Lt. Chris Dolby. Dolby said that scammers often target elderly people because they are often less likely to notice red flags, especially when these technologies are becoming more sophisticated.
“People want to help; it’s most people’s normal instinct,” Dolby said. He added that the Edgartown Police posts periodic bulletins on Facebook about common scams.
“In general, people should be a little more leery of claims that are made when they answer the phone or email, with the proliferation of scams that’s grown in recent years,” said Tisbury Police Sgt. Chris Habekost. Habekost said that it’s best to be cautious before giving money to anyone, especially in an online transaction.
According to Habekost, some of the most common scams that the police hear about are robocalls from people claiming to be the police, your electrical company, or cable company. If you receive one of those calls, “Tell them that you’ll call them back. Then find the real number online and call the actual business on their published line and ask them about it, and they can give you the real information,” Habekost said.
If you believe that you might be a victim of a cyber criminal, here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission on how to avoid fraud” “Search a company or product name with words like ‘review,’ ‘complaint’ or ‘scam.’” “Don’t deposit a check and wire money back.” And “don’t pay upfront for a promise.”