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Teton County police report increase in reports of fraudulent calls


By Kate Ready
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — For the third year in a row, law enforcement saw an increase in fraud calls from Jackson Hole residents.

Since Jan. 1, Teton County dispatch has received 199 calls for service that reported fraud in both the city and county. With a month left in the year, 2023 has already bested 2022’s record-setting year of 189 calls reporting fraud.

In 2021, law enforcement saw a small dip, at 173 calls, after receiving 187 such reports in 2020.

Seventeen reports mentioned some form of “Facebook” or “Marketplace” in their call notes compared to “Craigslist,” which was mentioned in only two calls, according to Lt. Russ Ruschill of the Jackson Police Department.

“Facebook Marketplace has taken over for Craigslist,” Ruschill told the Jackson Hole Daily.

“Credit cards” were mentioned in 12 calls with “rental” yielding five results.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Ruschill said.

Beware of local online “For Sale” groups, Ruschill warned, as those seem to be getting targeted “heavily.”

Ruschill recounted a recent trailer listing he saw on Misty’s List, a Facebook group that operates as an online garage sale for people in Star Valley and neighboring communities. The private group now has 52,000 members, more than “twice the population of Star Valley and Jackson Hole.”

A woman in the group posted that after putting her father in a nursing home, she was selling a bunch of his stuff.

“[She] had a dump trailer, which are usually about $10,000 to $15,000, listed for about $2,200,” Ruschill said. “And I’m looking at this and I started looking through the photos, and I’m like, ‘That’s nowhere near Jackson. The architecture is wrong. The backdrop is wrong. It’s nowhere near Star Valley.’ ”

Everything about it screamed “scam,” he said. 

Scammers like to sell higher ticket items like vehicles, tractors, and fake apartments or homes for rent. Fraudsters likely won’t bother with small ticket items such as art supplies, clothing or plants.

Another thing to be on the lookout for is leaving your car unlocked when you park it at a trailhead. 

“A large group of folks throughout the county” are targeting unlocked vehicles in order to snag credit cards out of purses. The kicker is they’ll leave the purse, so it may take some time before you notice anything is gone. Especially if the cards taken are not your primary mode of financial transactions.

The scammers then go into Target or Smith’s and max out your credit card to buy gift cards, a common form of money laundering that’s virtually untraceable.

Ruschill recommended using credit cards, rather than debit cards, for retail and online transactions.

“A debit card is a direct link to your money,” Ruschill said. “If you use a credit card, that goes on to a negative balance on your credit and then at the end of the month, the bank sends you a statement that says ‘You owe us money.’ So there is almost an ‘air gap’ if you will, between your money and the person who you purchase from.”

Disputing fraudulent charges on a credit card often results in quicker refunds since the money is considered the bank’s, rather than yours.

“American Express immediately takes my side and refunds the money back to my account while they do their investigation into the fraud, and … they become the victim and it’s their money that’s taken, not yours,” Ruschill said.

In a weekly newsletter summarizing scams reported in Wyoming, CyberWyoming told citizens to be wary of opening any links or attachments.

“A Laramie resident recently received a suspicious email from a Gmail address with an attachment from someone posing as ‘PayPal,’ ” the newsletter said.

The resident rightfully refused to open the email but reported that it showed an order confirmation.

“It appeared to be a bill stating, ‘You’ve sent a payment of $420.50 USD to Coinbase Inc.’ The email stated, ‘Thank you for your order. Verify follow Your order is going astonishing,’ ” the newsletter said.

The Internal Revenue Service also is chiming in on the fraud conversation, warning that cyber crime is threatening small businesses too.

“Hackers are increasingly hiding within services such as Slack and Trello to deploy malware,” the press release said. “Criminal hackers have always abused legitimate web services such as Gmail and Facebook to do their bidding, but increasingly they are finding new ways of blending into popular applications to avoid detection and find unsuspecting victims.”

The organization strongly urged businesses to rigorously safeguard their business and trade information as well as protect customer and employee data.

“Criminals can target a business’ credit card or payment information, business identity information or employee identity information,” the IRS wrote. “This information can also be used to file fraudulent business and personal tax returns.”

Business owners are encouraged to follow best practices from the Federal Trade Commission: Setting security software to update automatically, backing up important files, requiring strong passwords for and encrypting all devices, and using multi-factor authentication.

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