Kennewick police warn consumers about scammers

The scams might be different but the warning message remains the same: Don't give personal or financial information out to anyone who contacts you over the phone or by e-mail.

Three scams have been reported recently to Kennewick police and the department's crime prevention specialist, Mike Blatman, said it's not clear how many people lost money.

The first scam involved Benton PUD customers who took calls from someone claiming to be a PUD employee collecting payment for past due accounts, Blatman said. The caller said accounts had to be paid over the phone by credit card.

Ten customers reported receiving the calls and all 10 gave their credit card information to the scammer, Blatman said.

He said he's talked to PUD officials who told him they do not collect past due accounts that way. Anyone who gives out credit card information should immediately cancel the card and file a report with police and the bank that issued the card.

A second scam hitting the Tri-Cities involves people receiving bogus e-mails that appear to be coming from the Internal Revenue Service about rejected tax payments.

The people getting thee-mails are ones who ordinarily would make federal tax payments to the IRS, such as small-business owners.

The e-mails allege that a payment the person recently made to the federal tax payment program was rejected and they need to resubmit it, Blatman said.

The link in the e-mail, however, sends them to a bogus site that is not a federal site that would end in ".gov," he said.

If a person falls for the scam, clicks on the link and submits a new payment, the scammer will have access to the credit card information.

Another recent fraud scheme is more creative and could have resulted in a business unknowingly scamming customers out of their credit card information.

The business apparently had received a call that claimed to be from their bank's merchant services representative saying they needed a new credit card reader because the one they have is outdated, Blatman said.

The scam was discovered when the owner called the bank upset that no one showed up for the scheduled appointment to replace the card reader, he said.

Before agreeing to pay the $148 for a new card reader, the business customer called back the number given by the scammer to verify she wasn't being scammed, Blatman said. But, the scammer made sure the voice mail message had the proper name and said merchant services, he said.

It's not clear how the scheme would have worked because the scammer didn't keep the installation appointment, but Blatman suspects that if the new card reader was installed it would have captured the information from each card swiped for the scammer to use.

To prevent becoming a victim of a scam, Blatman says people should question what's going on. If a business is called about something that they didn't generate -- such as needing a new card reader -- the business owner should contact their regular bank representative to follow up.

He said people also shouldn't use the call back number or website link that's provided to them. They should do their own research and find the website or proper number to call with questions.

Again, if anyone falls victim to a scam, they need to immediately report it to police and cancel their credit cards, Blatman said.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556;