The latest online scam cost one Claremont man valuable personal records and could have cost his friends even more.
Henry Helton, the city of Claremont’s special events coordinator, admits to falling for an e-mail scam earlier this month, but is hoping citizens can learn from his mistakes.
Last week, Helton said he received an e-mail from AT&T inquiring about service. The e-mail said AT&T’s account records were filling up, and wanted to get rid of inactive accounts to make space. The e-mail asked Helton to send them his account information to ensure his account was still active, Helton said.
Because the e-mail was sent “on a professional-looking letterhead” and appeared legitimate, Helton sent the company his personal information.
After a day or so, he called the cable company to follow up on the e-mail, but quickly discovered that AT&T had not sent him anything at all.
“They said, ‘Mr. Helton, we did not send you that letter,’” he said.
Instead, Helton sent his personal information to scammers. The unidentified tricksters stole Helton’s entire e-mail contact list and sent letters to each one of his friends, colleagues and relatives asking for money. The con-artists wrote the letter from Helton’s point of view, and told his contacts that he was stuck in England and needed $1,500 to get home.
The letter reads:
“How’s everything on your end? This has had to come in a hurry and it has left me in a devastating state. I traveled to London, England for a Voluntary Training Program (VTP), and unfortunately for me all my money and cell phone was stolen at the hotel where I was staying by four armed robbers. The Embassy only cleared me of my traveling documents since I came in on unofficial purposes. The hotel telephone lines were disconnected during the robbery incident, so I have access to only e-mails.”
Shortly after the e-mails were sent out, Helton said he received more than 17 phone calls and messages from people inquiring about the situation.
As of today, no one has sent money to the crooks, but Helton still lost valuable contacts with a lot of his colleagues and friends.
“A lot of people who know me say it wasn’t written the way I write,” Helton said, adding that he lost contacts for Claremont City Council members, 75 vendors for Claremont Day and the Board of Directors for the University of West Georgia, among others.
Helton said he’s working on re-building his personal information and has enjoyed getting in touch with old friends during the process.
“The positive is that we have gotten so many good telephone calls checking up on me,” Helton said. “I’m more impressed that they have called to check on my welfare.”
Still, Helton warns citizens to be aware of possible scams in the future.
“I’ll admit I did a stupid thing, but people need to act before it happens to them,” he said. “If anyone wants any confidential information over the phone or e-mail, don’t give it to them.”
2nd Claremont Scam
Helton’s ordeal is the second scam in Claremont during the past two weeks.
Last week, Tammy G. Sigmon, of Claremont, received a check in the mail through FedEx this week for $3,000. The check was supposedly sent through Key Bank NA in Brooklyn, Ohio from WakeFern Food Corp. in New Jersey.
Though the company and bank do exist – and there is a routing number linked to an open account – the funds inside the account are insufficient.
Sigmon caught on to the scam before cashing the check and publicizing her personal information, but Catawba County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Eric Kanipe said victims fall for check gimmicks all the time.
Kanipe said the sheriff’s office provides fraud programs for citizens to make them aware of the many different types of popular scams.
“Another big scam that is going around is when you put something for sale (online),” Kanipe said. “The (scammers) will send you a check for more money than they owe you, and then ask for the extra money back.
Three days later, the bank will tell you it’s a bad check, after you’ve already sent them a check for the extra money. That generally is the one that really gets people bad.”
Because the scams occur online, through the mail and use existing businesses and banks, it can be hard to determine the difference between what’s real and what’s fake. Kanipe said it’s best to be wary of unexpected money heading your way.
“The best thing they can do is contact their bank so they can run the information on the check,” Kanipe said. “They should hold it for a few days and not do anything with it.”
If you have a question or suspect a scam, contact the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office at 828-465-8336.