Economic Crime Unit (ECU)
The unit is comprised of one lieutenant and three detectives. This unit has been in existence since August 2005.
Focus & Duties
The focus of the unit is to investigate crimes primarily involving financial issues, some of which include:
- Counterfeit Checks
- Counterfeit Currency
- Credit/Debit Card Fraud
- Credit/Debit Card Theft
- Financial Exploitation of the Elderly
- Financial Internet Crimes
- Identity Theft
- Mortgage Fraud
- Uttering Forged Documents
The unit works with local, state and federal agencies on a regular basis due to the fluid nature of the crimes involved in this specialized section. Currently we are the only agency in the local government arena in Iredell County with this specialized unit.
Prevention & Education
Because these crimes are much easier to prevent than they are to investigate and solve, the ECU actively reaches out to civic and church groups in an effort to conduct presentations to educate citizens. The presentations are conducted in hopes of preventing future victims or mitigating the level of crime to which the victim may become.
Economic Crime Forms:
Fake Debt Collectors
The caller is irate, intimidating, and despite the foul language sounds convincing. He says “you must make good on a payday loan or your wages will be garnished.” If you applied for a payday loan before, you might start questioning your memory: “Did I miss a payment? The caller has my information, so this must be legit…” The last thing you need is a short paycheck, especially if you’re already in a bind. So you pay. Thing is, you don’t owe them a dime. It’s a scam.
According to the complaints, callers threatened to garnish wages, and they offered to accept, or “settle the debt,” for significantly less than the amount allegedly owed. In addition, the caller didn’t give the person any proof of the debt, even when asked. But the calls were so convincing that many consumers actually made payments, even though they didn’t owe.
Here are a few tips for standing up to these scammers:
- Ask the caller for his name, company, street address, and telephone number. Tell the caller you won’t discuss any debt until you get a written "validation notice." If the caller refuses, don’t pay.
- Put your request in writing. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires any debt collector to stop calling if you ask in writing. Of course, if the debt is real, sending such a letter does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact.
- Don’t give or confirm any personal, financial, or other sensitive information.
- Contact your creditor. If a debt is legitimate – but you think the collector isn’t — contact the company to which you owe the money.
- Report the call. File a complaint with the FTC and North Carolina Attorney General's Office with information about suspicious callers.
Scammers Impersonate Law Enforcement
We know scammers are out there, impersonating the authorities and conjuring up different schemes to fool people into giving them money. They might say they’re calling from the IRS because you owe taxes. Or claim they’re from the FTC, calling to help you recover money lost to a scammer. But now we’re hearing about a new ploy: scammers are impersonating the police! Here’s how it works.
You get a phone call. Someone you care about is in jail and, they say, you need to pay up to bail him out. The scam detecting radar in your head immediately goes off. You’re skeptical, but the caller ID says the call is from the police department. And, let’s be honest, your nephew is a knucklehead and you can totally imagine him being arrested. So, you keep listening.
The caller tells you to put money on a prepaid card and give him the card number. Now your scam detecting radar is going off the charts. You know that police departments and the federal government, for that matter don’t tell people to pay with prepaid cards. You also know using a prepaid card is like paying cash once the money is gone, you can’t get it back.
“But what about the caller ID?” you wonder. In fact, what seems like reliable information about the source of a call isn’t so reliable anymore. Scammers can rig caller ID to look like they’re calling from the police department. Or, really, anywhere, even your own number. Don’t rely on caller ID. It’s not foolproof. Scammers can easily spoof it to try to gain your trust. If it looks like the police are calling, look up the non-emergency phone number (hint: it’s not 9-1-1) and call to find out if the story is legit. You’ll soon learn it’s a scam.
Fake Utility Bill Collectors
The caller sounds convincing: “If you don’t pay your utility bills immediately, your gas, electricity or water will be shut off.” They ask you to pay using a specific and unusual method.
Be warned: The call probably is a trick to steal your money.
Law Enforcement, Federal Trade Commission, state, and local consumer protection agencies, and utility companies have gotten a slew of complaints from consumers about utility bill scams. Here are a few signs you may be dealing with a scammer:
•You get a call or an email claiming your services will be cut off unless you call a number or click on a link and give your account information. Most utility companies don’t ask you to send your account information by email.
•Someone calls demanding you wire the money or use a prepaid or reloadable debit or gift card to pay your bill. Legitimate companies don’t demand you use those methods to pay.
•The caller tells you to call a phone number and give your credit, debit or prepaid card number. But if you do that, the scammer can access the money from your credit, debit or prepaid card, and you can’t trace where your money went. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
So if you get a call from someone threatening to shut off your utility service:
•Make sure you’re dealing with your utility company before you pay any amount. Call the company using a number you’ve looked up. Or go to their website to determine the status of your account. Confirm where and how to pay your bill. Don’t give out your account information on the phone unless you place or expect the call.
•Never wire money to someone you don’t know, regardless of the situation. Once you wire money, you cannot get it back.
•Do not click links or call numbers that appear in unexpected emails or texts, especially those asking for your account information. If you click on a link, your computer could become infected with malware, including viruses that can steal your information and ruin your computer.
•If you are falling behind on your utility bill, contact the utility company and see if they can work with you to come up with a payment plan and a way to keep your service on.
•If you think a fake utility bill collector or any other scammer has contacted you, file a complaint with the FTC and the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.
The “Grandma, it’s me” scam plays on the same emotions and can be more believable during summer months when young people often travel. Seniors get a call from someone posing as their grandchild who claims to have been arrested or in an accident while away from home. The phony grandchild says they don’t want to bother Mom and Dad, so they ask Grandma or Grandpa to send them some money and keep it a secret. Victims may get a follow up call from someone posing as police, requesting more money on the grandchild’s behalf.
Several recent victims told our office they knew their grandchildren were on a trip and that made the con more plausible. Grandparent scammers also sometimes use information they find on social networking sites like Facebook to make their impersonation more realistic.
Emails from overseas
You get an email that appears to come from a friend or relative who says they were traveling overseas when disaster struck. Lost or stolen bags, a car accident, or some other calamity means they’re stuck and need you to send them money. In reality, your friend or family member probably isn’t overseas, and if they are, they don’t need your money. A crook sent the fraudulent email hoping your desire to help a loved one in need will override your common sense.
Scammers sometimes try to lend credibility to their fraud by including the name of a government agency or public official.
A North Carolina couple recently got a call from scammers who told them they had won 2.5 million dollars in the Winners International Sweepstakes. The scammers directed the couple to pay the taxes via a Green Dot, MoneyPak card. Fortunately the couple called the Attorney General’s office and learned this was a scam before they sent the fraudsters any money.
It’s against the law to require a prepayment for any sweepstakes or cash prize. Another red flag for consumers: if the message you receive is poorly written (as the fax was in this instance), it’s probably a scam. Finally, because we’ve become more successful at stopping fraudsters from using Western Union and other wire transfer services, scammers are increasingly turning to reusable debit cards like Green Dot. If a sketchy message instructs you to send money via Green Dot, don’t do it.
Craigslist scam advertises false rental deals
If you’re looking for a home to rent, watch out for phony online listings. Rental fraudsters find information on properties that have been listed for sale elsewhere, create fake rental listings on websites like Craigslist, and then pose as the owners when potential tenants reply.
When browsing for homes for rent or sale online, look out for these warning signs:
• The advertised price is significantly lower than similar properties in the area.
• The listing says the owners will be gone for years and want someone to care for their home.
• You’re told you can only look in the windows of the property, not go inside.
• You’re asked to pay money upfront by wire transfer or prepaid debit card, and you may be asked to send the money overseas
• You’re told that keys are with the property owner and will be sent once the contract is signed and the deposit paid.
Don’t fall for calls from phony Treasury officials
Hundreds of North Carolinian's are fielding phone calls from scammers posing as agents of the US Department of the Treasury. The scammers claim to be calling about a federal criminal matter and threaten that you will be indicted by a grand jury and have to appear before a judge if you fail to respond.
These aggressive scammers claim that you have unpaid federal taxes and will go to jail if you don’t pay them right away by purchasing a reusable debit card such as Green Dot, MoneyPak cards. This scam is similar to one in which the con artists pretend to be IRS agents.
Phone calls from someone claiming to be with Treasury or the IRS are usually phony. Remember, federal agents rarely pick up the phone to call you. They prefer to communicate by letter, which provides a paper trail that is helpful in documenting their work, and they will never demand that you pay them immediately by reusable debit card.