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Scammers are out for everyone - Here’s how to avoid their schemes

Jada Kirkland

If you own a phone, you have likely received a call labeled "potential scam." Well, you are not alone. Data from the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs cites 485 scam reports this year. In May alone, consumers in the state lost over $1.2 million to scams.

Bailey Parker, the Communications Director at South Carolina's Department of Consumer Affairs, believes this number is likely higher.

"We know that there are probably thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people probably being affected by scams every single month here in South Carolina," she says. "It's just that people don't report because they're embarrassed, or they don't know to report."

According to the department, purchase, debt collection and crime or warrant scams are currently the top scam types in the state.

The Oconee County Sheriff's Office recently received reports of a warrant scam in their area. Jimmy Watts, their public information officer, says the scammer went by the name Sargent Baxter. To get money, the scammer called citizens requesting payment to drop warrants.

In investigating this scam, the sheriff's office called the supposed Sargent Baxter. While the scammer did not pick up, they heard a voice recording that impersonated their office.

The message said, "This is the Oconee County Sheriff's Department. All officers are busy at this time. If you could, please leave your name, your number, and your reason for calling, and someone will return your call as soon as possible. If it's an emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Thank you have a good day."

However, Watts points out a problem with the voicemail.

"So one of the things obviously with that voicemail is that we don't refer to ourselves as the Oconee County Sheriff's Department," he says. "We are the Oconee County Sheriff's Office."

More importantly, this is not how warrants work. Watts says, "a law enforcement officer will not call citizens and ask for money in order to have charges dropped or warrants recalled."

South Carolina's 2022 Identity Theft and Scam Report shows that adults 65 and older are most likely to report being affected by a scam. However, this statistic can be misleading.

"So, when we say that seniors are more likely to report being scammed, it's not that they're getting scammed more often. It's just they're more likely to report," Parker explains. "It's probably because we speak to seniors the most, and it's probably because they know to report."

Instead, scammers are out for everyone.

"Everybody getting scammed. It doesn't matter what age group you're in, teenagers are even getting scammed," Parker says.

However, when scammed, older adults lose more money than younger people. Parker says the less money a person loses, the less likely they are to report a scam.

To avoid scams, Doug Barfield, a spokesperson for Lancaster County Sheriff's office, believes the old saying is true.

"If it seems too good to be true its probably too good to be true," he says.

Barfield encourages people to verify that the businesses reaching out to them are who they claim to be.

"Most of the time when we get scammed, it's because somebody initiates contact with us," he says. "We don't normally get scammed because we reach out to a business that we do business with or to a bank that we bank with or to a phone company that we have an account with."

Parker says scammers often create a sense of urgency and request unusual forms of payments. Such payments can include gift cards, prepaid debit cards, and cryptocurrency. She says these payment requests are "a huge red flag."

She suggests using credit cards when shopping online, as they allow more time to report fraud.

If you are a victim of a scam or identify a possible scam, you can contact your local law enforcement and the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. You can also report digital scams on the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center's website.

Jada Kirkland was an ETV Endowment 2023 Summer Intern working with South Carolina Public Radio May-August 2023. She is a rising senior broadcast journalism major in the University of South Carolina Honors College and a native of Sumter. In school, Jada has served as vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a mentor for first-year students. During her free time, Jada enjoys writing poetry and taking photos.