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‘If it sounds too good to be true, it is’

Wherever there are good people, there are bad people posed to take advantage of them, so Hamilton County Sheriff Doug Timmons has issued a warning to the public of several scams that have been circulating in central Iowa recently.

Most of the scams are conducted over the phone and include a variety of tactics a thief uses to rob a victim.

There are many red flags a person needs to recognize when receiving a call announcing a prize or a cash windfall, said Timmons.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” he said.

The most recent scam brought to the attention of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department has been one that claims to be from Publishers Clearing House, said Timmons.

“The caller says a person has won a car or a million dollar prize but in order to receive their winnings, the victim needs to send money in order to process the prize,” said Timmons. “These people are smooth talkers”.

That’s the biggest red flag because any legitimate prize would not require a fee, said Timmons. Second, a call that originates from one location with correspondence to be sent to another location is a huge red flag.

Currently, there is a scam involving energy providers, specifically Alliant Energy, said Timmons.

A customer receives a call or sometimes a letter in the mail that informs them that their bill is delinquent. Not only are they required to send in the cost of the bill, but they also need to send a $1,000 late fee or they risk having their power shut off.

In this instance, Timmons asks clients to hang up immediately and call their energy provider directly.

According to Mike Wagner, spokesman for Alliant Energy, the company will never call and demand payment over the phone. Notices of delinquent payments are done via the US Postal Service and are conducted over a period of time, not with an immediate transaction.

When a customer has a delinquent bill, there will be a series of contacts with Alliant Energy so a customer would not be surprised by any action taken by the company, said Wagner.

Again, the company would not shut off power but rather work with a customer to make good on their bill, emphasized Wagner.

If a customer receives a call demanding payment from Alliant Energy, Wagner advises them to hang up and call the company at the phone number on a past bill or on the company’s website.

“We just want our customers to feel secure and to know that we will never demand payment where a person meets in a park or in a gas station parking lot,” said Wagner.

Wagner emphasized that disconnects don’t usually happen because Alliant Energy makes every effort to help a customer make good on their bill.

With Spring Break in full swing, the grandparent scam is also making the rounds, said Sheriff Timmons.

This particular scam involves a person calling and identifying as a grandchild who needs bail money to get out of jail with a plea not to tell their parents.

“This relies on the grandparent who doesn’t want the kid to get in trouble and so they send the money,” said Timmons.

Instead, hang up and call the parents, urged Timmons.

“In one instance, the parents said their child was at home in bed, sleeping in the next room,” he said.

With caller ID, people are able to identify who a caller is and can possibly avoid talking to a scammer. But these thieves are becoming more sophisticated and a number can read from one of your contacts but be from a scammer, said Timmons. So if a caller from your contact list requests money, hang up and call that person back on your phone.

“Just hang up,” said Timmons. “Don’t play their game”.

There are several person-to-person scams, also, said Timmons.

One of them includes a carseat sitting on the side of the road. When the traveler stops to check it out, someone comes out of hiding and steals their car. Or a stalled car on the side of the road is actually a set up to steal a car or rob a person.

In both instances, Timmons urges people to call law enforcement rather than stop and help.

One parking lot scam involves a person approaching your vehicle. They claim to be broke and unable to access their credit card to get funds in order to travel to get medical treatments in another city. Or a person claims to be from out-of-state and is stranded and needs funds to repair their car. Instead, offer to call the police to help them and drive away.

“There is Iowa nice, but a person needs to protect themselves,” said Timmons.

With the spread of COVID-19, Timmons suspects there will be scams perpetrated on the public associated with prevention or antidotes.

“If it sounds fishy, don’t do it,” warns Timmons. “Don’t become a victim.”

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