Southern California Edison. The Internal Revenue Service. Home-repair handymen. At first blush these three appear to have little in common. But the mountain residents who in recent weeks have fallen prey to con men claiming to represent one of these disparate entities have learned all too well that the thing their interaction with these fraudsters shares is pain.
In last week’s issue of the Mountain News we reported on two unidentified persons, one in Crestline and the other in Running Springs, who took the bait when contacted by a scammer who claimed the victim owed money to Edison and would have their power turned off if they didn’t pay.
As a result of the successful scams, perpetrated on July 10 and 22, the gullible victims lost $220 and $500.
In this week’s paper we tell how, on July 28, a Lake Arrowhead woman was contacted by a man claiming to represent the IRS. The caller said the woman owed $2,400.75 to the federal tax-collection agency. If the money were not paid immediately a lien would be slapped on her house and her bank account would be levied.
Panicked, she purchased a money pack at a retail store and called the scammer, in good faith, to give him the PIN for the funds.
In June, sheriff’s deputies arrested a man at his Lake Arrowhead home for embezzlement after he allegedly took deposits from numerous local residents for supplies for work he agreed to do, but never showed up to perform the various home-improvement jobs. He then would not return phone calls from his victims.
After posting bail, the suspect, Bacilio Lopez Hernandez, 42, failed to appear in court on July 7 and was declared a fugitive. Jail records say he remained at large on Monday. Two of his relatives have also been implicated.
Authorities say as many as 100 local homeowners may have been duped, losing thousands of dollars to the scammers. Some, because of embarrassment, may never come forward.
An online article by the National Center for Victims of Crime says those who become victims suffer physical and psychological trauma. Victims of violent crime are more likely to fall into the former category, while those whose naiveté or helpfulness are turned against them are more likely to suffer psychological damage. It could manifest itself in fatigue, inability to sleep or changes in their appetite—all after their shock, denial, disbelief and anger have played out.
The article says many victims claim victimization’s stress increases their likelihood of physical problems later in life.
In victimization, as in many areas of life, knowledge is power; in this case, it’s the key to avoiding being tricked.
For example, when this newspaper in September 2013 reported the first of the Edison scams in the mountain communities, the story included comments from an Edison spokesperson who said the company never demands sending money for unpaid bills by a pre-paid credit card, the scammer’s approach. She also gave a toll-free number to contact Edison to confirm the entity accepting the money is authorized to do so.
On April 3 of this year, when we reported on income-tax scams popping up, we quoted IRS spokesman Raphael Tulino as saying his agency does not initiate direct contact with taxpayers. “We don’t call you out of the blue,” he said.
As for the home-repair scam, we can only say that paying up front for work to be done by someone you don’t know is something common sense should prohibit.
Since knowledge is the ultimate protection in such cases, staying informed is key to survival in a world where so many seek to separate you from your money. The Mountain News is a reliable source of such information, and those who would be forearmed by being forewarned would be well advised to subscribe.