Each year, more and more Americans fall victim to an online scam. These scammers are either impersonating a federal agent, a student loan officer, a car insurance salesperson or are coming up with new personas to trick their targets.

Scams are not exclusive to major cities or in the middle of nowhere. Today we take a look at five scams in the Lehigh Valley, and how we can avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

 
 

1. The Allentown to Oklahoma Lottery Scam

Oklahoma |
December 2021
$700,000 a Year Lost
 
A con artist will do anything to lock you into their grasp, their avarice twisting and turning just to gain your trust. But nothing can compare to the twists that occurred during this real life scam involving an Allentown Man, where coincidence is stranger than fiction.

In December of 2021, a TikTok put a Marlow, Oklahoma high school on high alert in fear of violence. During the lockdown, police noticed a strange man carrying a mysterious silver suitcase, prowling the school grounds. While being questioned, the man stated he was carrying around divorce documents. However, a call came through to the station, made by a local woman stating that the stranger with the silver suitcase, was to deliver her in excess of five million dollars.

The woman recounts to police that she received a call earlier in the month informing her that she won a Publishers Clearing House Sweepstake. However, in order to receive the money, she owed $10,000 in back taxes. Upon the stranger’s arrest, the woman received yet another call stating there would be a delay in getting her winnings. [1]

The Lesson 
 
It seems like the Jamaican Lottery Scam has roots in the Advance Fee Scam, more commonly known as the Nigerian Prince Scam. The scam involves promising the victim a large sum of money in exchange for a small upfront fee. Each year, the scam tricks hundreds of Americans out of their money. The Marlow woman could have easily fallen guilty to the Jamaican Lottery scam if it wasn’t for the complete happenstance of a viral TikTok that lead to the stranger’s arrest.
 
The Damages 
 
The Foreign Money Exchange/ Advance Fee scam continues to rake in over $700,000 a year from over 20,000 people, and the numbers grow each year. [2]

2. Be Aware of Impersonations

Allentown |
June 2021
Loss Unknown

Even those of the highest court can become victims of a scam. Believing they were literally above the law, a few fraudsters mimicked Lehigh Valley’s own District Judge, Ronald Manescu, in an attempt to trick victims out of “bail bond” money for their relative. [3]
 
The Lesson
 
Don’t Panic, like your local federal credit union, a local law enforcement agency will never call you asking for money over the phone. According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, if you receive this scam call, hang up. “Anyone receiving calls of this nature is encouraged to hang up immediately and contact state and/or local police as well as the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555 or scams@attorneygeneral.gov.”

3. Sweetheart Scams Shakes the Star of the Valley 

Bethlehem |
February 2018
$5,300 Lost
 
Put the scam in-between “pickup artist” and you have this story. In 2018, Attorney General Josh Shapiro began to crackdown on sweetheart scams. One Bethlehem woman was a victim of a scam and was tricked out of her personal information and over $5,000. [4]
 
The Lesson -
 
The Sweet Heart Scam, sometimes called “Catfishing” involves using relationship and psychological tactics to pull at victims’ heartstrings. Tell-tale signs of catfishing include:

    • Never wants to video chat
    • Expresses Love quickly and frequently
    • Lulls you into a state of dependency
    • Out of town at inopportune times
    • Cancels plans last minute

4. Robocalls Continue to Climb

Nationwide
December 2020 and Ongoing

Thirty Billion Dollars Annually

Cases of Robocalls looking to defraud continue to rise. A record number of Americans are falling victim to scam calls. Almost sixty million Americans to be exact. But why?

According to Truecaller, the scams are becoming more clever, and are most successful at convincing men under 40. [5]

For anyone who has bought a new car, the automated robo-call can seem legitimate. Some thoughts that may run through your head when getting a robo-call include:

  • “What if I’m missing a payment?”
  •  “What if they take away my vehicle? “
  • “How will I get to work?”
  • And “Why am I getting all these calls?”

It’s no wonder the younger generation is the most susceptible to this scam. There's a lot to process when buying your first car, and the call may look legitimate. Even if the area code looks familiar, there’s a scamster on the other line just waiting for you to say the word “Yes.” The robo-caller may be a recording machine designed for identity theft to steal your credit card information, social security number, or other personal information.

5. Tech Support Scams and Fraudulent Apps

Bethlehem
February 2021 |
Potential Loss  Passwords and Bank Account Info

In late February 2021, a Bethlehem woman almost lost complete access to her suite of Apple products and possibly more. After receiving an alert from “Apple” stating her account was compromised, the woman immediately called back.

Surprisingly, the person on the other end was not an automated message or recording, but an actual person. On the other end of the line was someone claiming to be from Apple support. The woman was instructed to download Team Viewer on the App Store in order to share her logins and computer screen. Luckily, the application was reported as a scam by other app-store users. [6]

But…what if there wasn’t a warning?

The Lesson

If asked, you should deny sharing your computer screen or login information with someone claiming to be a company representative. Companies already have your login information on file, and would only use a screen-sharing device to gain access to sensitive information such as passwords.

A screen share device should never be used in order to verify identity. If you are contacted by a company representative, verify the number. Check the company’s official website and see if both numbers match up. If the received call is from a different number, block the caller.

If the call looks authentic, manually dial the company’s number if you want to call them back. Scammers can utilize caller ID spoofing to disguise their inauthentic phone number to look official

Wrap Up

Scams are easy to dismiss with “this won’t ever happen to me.” Scammers rely on victims letting their guards down. Looking back at these five scams, the targets have nothing in common. They were all different ages and of different demographics. A scam can happen to anyone, and the only way to stay safe is to stay alert. Looking to file a complaint and report a scam? Contact the FTC with any illegitimate business emails, spoofed calls, impersonations that make their way to your device.


Sources

1. Man held in Pennsylvania in J'can lottery scam (sleekjamaica.com)

2. Nigerian prince scams still rake in over $700,000 a year (cnbc.com)

3. Hang up! Scammers are posing as Lehigh Valley judge, state warns. - lehighvalleylive.com

4. Attorney General Josh Shapiro Warns Pennsylvanians of Online Romance Scams: exploreVenango.com

5. Americans lost $29.8 billion to phone scams over the past year (cnbc.com)

6. Bethlehem Twp. police officer discusses cellphone scams | Lehigh Valley Regional News | wfmz.com