Crime Watch

Avoid Fraud. Guard your personal information

Do You Want To Be A Millionaire?
by The Richmond Police Department on Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Many of us would answer yes. If not money, fill in the blank with something else, like a new car, a soul mate, a pet, or companionship. Add an unscrupulous scammer, and an unsuspecting victim and you have a recipe for fraud.

Does this sound familiar? You receive a call or e-mail from a foreign country. It is someone claiming to speak for a family member requesting money to return home. Alarmed, you quickly wire several thousand dollars to the thieves posing as your relative. Immediately they ask for more. You contact your relative and realize that you’ve been defrauded of thousands of dollars.

Not you or anyone you know? What about the sweepstakes announcement that arrives in the mail, promising you hundreds and thousands of dollars. The caveat: you have to withdraw $3,000 in taxes while they stand beside you at the ATM in order to qualify for your “prize.” They also require a social security number and a driver’s license.

Not familiar? Well how about that generous benefactor from a foreign monarchy sending you e-mails promising more riches than Ed McMahon could ever deliver if you'd only be willing to wire them money to ensure your unexpected windfall returns to you?

This is real fraud that happened to real Richmond residents. Shame, stigma and other reasons often keep people from reporting these crimes for investigation. Often people lose their savings and homes by simply trusting in someone charming with an ulterior motive. Criminals who perpetrate fraud often prey on the elderly, and those who live alone. They require advance fees and up front deposits in exchange for tempting prizes. The only prize that will be won, however, is your wallet. Fake e-mails, bogus websites, and delays after receiving your cash are the tools of choice.

Some Popular Scams:


The lottery scam involves fake notices of lottery wins. The winner is usually asked to send sensitive information to a free e-mail account. The scammer then notifies the victim that releasing the funds requires some small fee (insurance, registration, or shipping). Once the victim sends the fee, the scammer invents another fee. A new variant of the lottery scam involves fake or stolen checks being sent to the 'winner' of the lottery (these checks representing a part payment of the winnings). The winner is more likely to assume the win is legitimate, and thus more likely to send the fee (which he does not realize is an advance fee). The check and associated funds are flagged by the bank when the fraud is discovered, and debited from the victim's account.


A recent variant is the Romance Scam, which is a money-for-romance angle. The con artist approaches the victim on an online dating service, an Instant messenger, or a social networking site. The scammer claims an interest in the victim, and posts pictures posted of an attractive person (not themselves). The scammer uses this communication to gain confidence, then asks for money. The con artist may claim to be interested in meeting the victim, but needs cash to book a plane, hotel room, or other expenses. In other cases, they claim they're trapped in a foreign country and need assistance to return, to escape imprisonment by corrupt local officials, to pay for medical expenses due to an illness contracted abroad, and so on


Another advance-fee method that has been used recently on Craigslist is where the scammer will contact someone selling an item and ask them to ship the item to a location outside the US, then provide the tracking number for the shipped item in exchange for payment. The seller then sends the item and provides the tracking number, after which the scammer never provides payment. Sometimes the scammer will approach someone offering a room or apartment for rent and pose as someone moving in to their area from overseas. They will create a scenario in which they are pressured to secure the room in advance, and ask if they can secure their occupancy with a deposit. The deposit check that they send will be a fake check for far more than the amount requested for a deposit. When the check arrives, the scammer will ask for a refund of the difference between the check they sent and the agreed upon amount. The fake check will bounce and the victim has lost whatever money they "refunded" to the scammer.

Reporting fraud is nothing to be ashamed of. They shame lies at the door of the individuals who manipulate the public for personal gain. If you’re reading this message you can help protect yourself and your family. Be suspicious of anything that feels illegitimate. Guard your personal information. Never succumb to high pressure phone or internet sales tactics asking you to sign away on the dotted line without reading a document. Requests for money for contests, sweepstakes and lotteries, are always red flags. Call the police when anything suspicious occurs and confirm the facts before acting. 

For more about prevention of fraud contact the Crime Prevention Unit,, or e-mail Sgt. DeWayne Williams of the Property Crimes Unit at 

Report suspicious activity to (510) 233-1214


Richmond Police Department Crime Prevention Program
1701 Regatta Blvd.
Richmond, CA 94804


Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 510-620-6538

Michelle Milam
Crime Prevention

Crime Prevention: Richmond Police Department information page

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