A scheme in which a caller says you owe money for a bill you never had, or that you won a lottery or sweepstakes but have to submit a prepaid debit card for payment, has bilked three Carpentersville residents out of more than $17,000 since January, police said this week.
In response, the police department has launched a public awareness campaign against the "Green Dot Card Scams" in which the victims put the money they "owe" on a prepaid debit card and sent it to the swindlers, who then deposit the money elsewhere.
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The cards are difficult to track, the crimes are hard to chase and no arrests have been made, police said.
"Obviously, by the time the money's picked up, they're already gone," said Joe Pilarski, the community resource officer.
Police have distributed informational fliers to banks, to the stores that sell the prepaid cards, and to the senior center at the Dundee Township Park District, Pilarski said.
Officials also posted the information onto the village's website.
Two crimes occurred this month and one in January.
Someone claiming to be from an attorney's office called a 20-year-old Carpentersville woman Saturday and told her she owed $700 on an old case, police said. Panicked, the woman put $700 on a prepaid card and sent it in.
Last week, a 60-year-old Carpentersville man was told he'd won a $2.5 million lottery in California and a new Mercedes-Benz, but he'd first have to pay taxes on all of it. He put $1,500 on a prepaid card and sent it to the scammer, police said.
A 67-year-old Carpentersville woman was scammed out of $15,000 in January after someone called to tell her she'd won a $1 million sweepstakes but needed to pay $15,000 in fees before getting her winnings. After she sent the money on a prepaid card, the scammers told her they needed another $15,000. She attempted to take money out of her bank account but the teller became suspicious and called police.
"Once people get money out of somebody they tend to know that they're very trusting and they'll go back and try to get money out of them again," Pilarski said. "Unfortunately, it seems once people get older they get more trusting."
Police recommend the following to avoid a scam:
• Tell the person to take the fees out of your winnings. If they persist and say they can't do so, it's a scam.
• Tell the person you will pay the taxes on a car they said you won when the vehicle arrives. If they insist on money upfront, it is a scam.
• Know that a legitimate bill collector won't threaten to call police or other authorities.
• Do not use a wire service or a prepaid debit card to send money.
• Don't be too trusting. "If it sounds too good to be true, it is," Pilarski said.