Last updated: August 16. 2014 1:35PM - 499 Views
A Daily Journal editorial

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You have about a 1 in 175 million chance of winning the Powerball jackpot, according to the N.C. Education Lottery.

Your odds of being targeted in a lottery scam? We can’t be exactly sure, but Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. tells us they’re significantly better.

Phone and mail scams are circulating in Richmond County, with hucksters trying to con honest and hardworking folks out of their money. Lottery scams, in which a caller or mailing promises high-dollar winnings in exchange for a processing fee, remain popular.

“Do not accept a phone call talking about winning the lottery when you know you haven’t entered a lottery,” Clemmons advises residents.

Sometimes, scammers mail fraudulent checks to unsuspecting folks and instruct them to return a portion of the winnings to the sender. When banks process the phony checks, account holders come up empty and the “processing fee” is usually long gone.

In other scams, callers will impersonate government officials, banks and even loved ones in an elaborate fishing expedition to gain personal information they can use to steal your identity.

Scammers have been known to rip off the elderly by initiating a phone call with “It’s me” or “It’s your favorite grandson” and quickly launching into a convoluted story about going to jail or being involved in an emergency and needing an immediate money transfer.

A rule of thumb: If you call your bank, credit card company or utility, representatives might ask you for an account number or birth date to verify you are who you say you are. But if someone claiming to be from such a company initiates the call, you should be wary of any such requests.

“If these phone calls are being received, do not give them your name or information,” Clemmons said. “Most definitely, do not give your Social Security number to anyone.”

A California company is blanketing Richmond County with so-called deed processing notices advertising official copies of property records for an $83 fee. The county’s register of deeds, Linda Douglas, says homeowners don’t need to shell out that kind of cash.

County property records are available free online at http://richmondrod.net. Need a certified copy? At 35 cents a page, that will cost you about $2 at the register of deeds office in the old Richmond County Courthouse.

Residents who have fallen prey to phone, mail and door-to-door scams can turn to the sheriff’s office and the N.C. Department of Justice for help. Residents can contact the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-877-566-7226.

The best defense against fraudsters may well be a healthy dose of skepticism. We’d all like to believe that we’ve won a big cash prize. But if we can’t recall entering a lottery, sweepstakes or drawing, claims of such winnings are just too good to be true.

We also should be skeptical of anyone who calls us at home and either claims we owe mystery money or tries to give us the hard sell for a product or service we didn’t seek.

If you’re not sure whether a salesperson or company is legitimate, do some research before doing business with them. The N.C. Department of the Secretary of State maintains records on all incorporated businesses in North Carolina, and those firms’ addresses, registered agents and other relevant information is public record. The Better Business Bureau also provides much of this information, along with customer reviews and the status of any BBB complaints.

Most people are good at heart, and we still believe most businesspeople are honest. But through the phone line and mass mailings sent to tens of thousands of homes, a few bad apples can do a lot of damage.

The age-old warning of caveat emptor rings true today in Richmond County. Let the buyer beware.

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