Scam alerts issued after local businesses, residents targeted

Friday, July 13, 2012 | 5:31 p.m. CDT; updated 4:42 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 14, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department has issued two scam alerts after two local businesses were targeted by fraudulent insurance sales representatives earlier this week.

According to a news release, officers were dispatched Sunday to Gerbes on Nifong after the grocery store received a phone call from a man who allegedly identified himself as "Rick" with Allstate Insurance. The manager became suspicious and hung up after the caller claimed to have corporate permission to talk to employees about life insurance. 

Tips for avoiding fraud

  1. Never send money or give out personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, dates of birth or social security numbers, to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
  2. If you call the number back that called you to verify the information and a recording picks up that doesn't state the name of the company, it is probably a scam.
  3. Make a phone call to verify a suspicious call.
  4. Before you send money to someone, ask yourself a simple question: "What guarantee do I have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?" 
  5. Be skeptical — always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.
  6. Take safety precautions — don’t pay by credit card, cash or money order.
  7. If something doesn't seem right, it's probably not right.

The report offered no identifying details about the caller.

Police responded Monday to a similar incident at the Walgreens at 1000 Club Village Drive. According to the release, a woman who identified herself as "Joie" entered the store with a laptop and asked employees for personal information to determine whether they qualified for benefits from Allstate Insurance. Store employees placed a call to the insurance company and found no record of the woman.

According to police reports, "Joie" appears to be a white female in her fifties with red hair. She weighs an estimated 150 pounds and is 5-feet-5-inches tall.

The release also mentioned a separate nationwide scam that has duped eight people in the area. Prompted by a scammer who told them the Obama administration authorized bailouts for utility bills, the people forfeited banking and other personal information.

The Columbia Police Department urges anyone with information regarding these scams to report it to a law enforcement agency.

Supervising editor is Hannah Cushman.

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