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Editorial: Scammers court trouble

Another day, another scheme to fleece  unsuspecting citizens. That seems to be the case with the latest scam alert from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. A man claiming to be from the Sheriff’s Office has called people and announced they are being fined for missing jury duty. The caller says the fine must be paid with a prepaid money card, money voucher or money order, and the person must stay on the line until the payment is complete.

There’s your sign. Any caller who demands immediate payment with a prepaid card is up to no good. If a deputy were to call and inform you of a fine, you’d be directed to the Sheriff’s Office or the Magistrate’s Office, not Green Dot Money Pak.

So far, no one in Rowan County has reported losing money to the jury-duty scam, but six people across the state have fallen for similar ruses and lost about $1,000 each, according to the state Department of Justice.

Playing people for suckers is an age-old trade; the dishonest are always with us. So it’s satisfying to hear that a perpetrator has been nabbed now and then.

Authorities in India believe they have done just that to the mastermind behind the IRS scam that pinched millions from U.S. citizens by threatening arrest if they didn’t pay up supposedly overdue taxes. The suspect, 24-year-old Sagar Thakkar — aka Shaggy — fled the country last year after his network of call centers near Mumbai was raided. He returned April 7, reportedly out of fear of being deported from Dubai to the United States. An arrest warrant pending in the U.S. charges him with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering, among other crimes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 1.7 million complaints were lodged over the past three years from people reporting calls from the swindlers impersonating IRS agents. Now Thakkar’s scam has been brought down.

Unfortunately, Thakkar has imitators, and there are countless schemes to rip people off in some way. There is nothing new under the sun.

But there are ways to avoid becoming a victim. Be skeptical rather than fearful. Any legitimate penalty or reward will be reported to you in writing, not by phone. Report threatening or abusive calls to authorities. When in doubt, hang up — especially if someone says the Sheriff’s Department is charging you a fine for skipping jury duty. That’s not how things work.

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