SAVANNAH, GA (June 15, 2012) The ease of using the Internet for commerce and communication is compounded for thieves and scammers and Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police are warning residents to act cautiously.

 Victims who can least afford the losses are increasing with scams directed at those in vulnerable situations, said Star Cpl. Raymond Woodberry of the SCMPD Financial Crimes Division.

 “The number of cases is growing so rapidly we actually have to triage them to determine which we can work on,” he said. “We have to focus on those with a higher possibility of solution and even then very few of our victims will be able to recover their losses.”

 Work at home scams are the most prevalent, with as many as five victims a month reporting they were cheated out of money by employers they never met. One involves a scam usually directed at residents who have been searching the Internet for employment opportunities.

 The web sites sell their email addresses to other businesses, including scammers who offer opportunities such as “Secret Shopper.” An offer to allow the victim to apply for the job comes in an email with a detailed questionnaire. Sometime later, the victim is “hired” by a company which sends a cashier’s check.

 In one example, a victim was “hired” to critique a telegraph service. The company sent a check for $3,500, asked the victim to cash it at their bank and “wire” money back to a certain address. They were advised to keep $200 as their payment. Once the money was wired back, the victim is asked to critique the wire service on established criteria.

 Several days later the victim was advised by their bank that the check was fraudulent and they are ordered to return the money to their bank. The recipients of the wired money have vanished with no identifying information.

 “Sadly, these victims were involved because of their need for employment,” Woodberry said. “Few can afford to repay the loss, but banks must be insistent on repayment.”

 The website “Craigslist” offers many criminal opportunities:

 One growing in numbers in the area is the house rental scam in which multiple tenants pay deposits for the same house or apartment, that may not even exist. This is pitched to students or transfers to the area who want a place to live until they find a permanent residence. Many cases are reported around popular events such as the St. Patrick’s Day festival. Several groups arrive, all with leases on the same property, and the “landlord” cannot be found.

 Another is the purchase or sales opportunity of a high-dollar item, such as a vehicle. Victim’s are provided the Vehicle Identification Number and photographs of a vehicle that actually exists, but usually is not owned by the seller. Buyers can even obtain CarFax reports on the vehicle, not knowing that the seller does not own it. One victim paid for a car and was sent assurances that it was being shipped, but never received it or heard from the seller again.

 Other victims have reported selling items on the Internet after being paid by certified checks that turned out later to be bogus. One victim was even paid $2,000 for an $800 item and consented to return the $1,200 that was “accidentally” overpaid. Several days later the check bounced.

 Police suggest that in all transactions in which money is sent through banks, especially using certified checks or money orders, wait until the check or money order successfully clears the issuing bank before sending any item or spending any money that was received.

 “They (the offenders) will want their money immediately, but people easily could find themselves the victims of losses they cannot afford,” Woodberry said. “Give the bank time to make sure the check clears before spending or using the cash. Ask the bank to let you know when it clears.”

 One would-be victim did that and learned the check was fraudulent. He was able to alert the bank he had sent money to hold the cash until police could arrive. When they did they found the account had been set up by another victim of a work at home scheme who had been “hired” to set up an account that money would be coming into and to wire the balance to another account weekly.

 “We are getting so many complaints ,” Woodberry said. “On some we can produce arrests. But it is rare that victims are reimbursed and it is painful to see folks who simply cannot afford the losses experience them”

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