COVINGTON - The problem of e-mail scams is getting worse, not better, according to Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Bill Watterson.
He said there are still people in the community who respond to solicitations for money or financial information, and he wants to encourage all residents to hit the delete button on their computers the minute they see an offer of "something for nothing."
"There are different variations of these scams. One of the popular ones is supposed to come from the Ivory Coast of Africa, and they'll tell you they have $25 million they need you to help them spend on widows, orphans and students," Watterson said. "Then they'll ask for $500 or $1,000 in attorney's fees before they transfer the money."
Watterson said a local man sent a total of $15,000 in several installments in answer to a request to keep money away from "the drug Czar in the city of Abidjan." Others have become involved in requests to act as middle men in eBay transactions, not only to be scammed out of their money, but to be left on the hook for the merchandise as well.
He said he also fears that many more people are falling prey to these solicitations than are reporting it once they realize they have been scammed, often because they are embarrassed that they were hoodwinked.
Most of these solicitations come from foreign countries, and Watterson warns that once an American citizen's dollars leave the U.S., there is very little hope in tracking it.
"If money is going to be leaving the U.S., I would not trust that transaction," he said, adding that if there is something fishy, the chance of getting the money back is remote. "We don't have the authority or jurisdiction to go overseas."
Watterson himself received a solicitation last week informing him there was $35,520,000 sitting in an inactive account, "lifeless and unnoticed," and that nobody would ever know of its existence. The sender wanted him to "stand as next of kin" and offered to send the money to Watterson's bank account if he would split it with the sender, minus the "trivial expenses" that would be incurred. It was signed Hon-hing Wong.
"We need to live by the No. 1 rule that your grandparents always told you - nothing in life is free," he said, cautioning that anyone who has not bought a ticket for the Dutch lottery is not going to win the Dutch lottery and should ignore all e-mails to the contrary.
Watterson said these appeals are apparently working or they wouldn't be so prolific.
He also cautioned to never give out personal or banking information via the telephone.
"Banks do not call and ask for that kind of information. Go to your bank and see customer service in person," he said.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.