Too good to be true

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 06/97) - If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

This is the rule of thumb when dealing with telephone promotions that offer big prizes, according to Sgt. Paul Gamble of the Yellowknife commercial crime section.

"If you're not sure, don't get involved," he said.

These phone or letter offers claim to give away cars, boats, huge amounts of cash, and just about any other luxury item.

But after giving out a personal bank account number or spending hundreds on 1-900 numbers to claim a prize, so-called winners almost never receive what they were offered.

Gamble warned that if the person on the phone asks for bank account numbers or pressures for information, the offer may not be legitimate. The commercial crime section in Yellowknife has had more than 30 reports of suspected fraud in the last two months across the North.

"It's all happening here in the NWT," he said. "And I feel that this number is very low because I think a lot of people get calls and hang up or get letters and throw them away."

Some other people, Gamble said, may not want to admit they've been the victim of a telephone scam because they might be embarrassed. "We're not getting the proper stats," he said.

Deputy fire chief Mike Lowing said that there is a suspicious fundraising run on for the third summer to get people to donate to a children's burn unit in Alberta. "We're not aware of it and everyone we've talked to wasn't aware of it," he said.

Difficult to prosecute

Phone scams are everywhere and no one is immune to them said Gamble.

A difficult crime to prosecute, phone fraud is perhaps best combated through public education.

Gamble said the scam artists are difficult to track because they are run out of "boiler rooms," or rooms they rent for a couple of weeks before moving on to another location.

"They also run fake companies and target outside their jurisdiction," he said. But the officer asks that people contact the police if they are suspicious about an offer they've received.

"If someone sends money, we would like to know -- I would like to know what happens," he said. "We may be able to intercept them."

But if you're not ready to lose cash -- or even your life savings -- because of a promised big prise, Gamble offered this advice: "All you have to do is hang up."

Anyone with information can call the RCMP and they will provide the caller with a number to Phonebusters. It is an Ontario Provincial Police program set up to trace companies to see if an offer is legitimate.