Sgt. Gary Bellinghausen, pictured above speaking to high school students in March, led an informational session on common scams that target residents.
Sgt. Gary Bellinghausen, pictured above speaking to high school students in March, led an informational session on common scams that target residents.

July 27, 2018

When it comes to your money, you can’t be too careful.

That was the theme of a retail fraud program jointly hosted by the Carroll Police Department and Carroll Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

Business owners, retailers and residents attended the event, held at the Carroll Recreation Center theater, to hear Carroll Police Sgt. Gary Bellinghausen and Detective Alex Klever discuss various scams, frauds and thefts they have encountered in the Carroll area.

The pair touched on shoplifting, current scams, forgery, bad checks, counterfeit money, store video and surveillance, quick-change money scams and more.

There have been multiple discoveries of counterfeit money in the Carroll area in recent months.

“Fake money has been going around for millions of years,” Bellinghausen said. “Ever since money has been made, someone has found a way to fake it.”

It’s easy for a business to miss counterfeit money, especially on a busy day.

“If you’re not in banking, it’s hard to remember the markings, the little shadows, all the telltale markings of a counterfeit bill,” Bellinghausen said.

But a few clues can help anyone identify them, even without a detector pen, he said — different texture, smaller size, matching serial numbers on multiple bills.

One counterfeit bill the department obtained had the phrase “for motion picture use only” printed at its base.

Businesses are legally allowed to confiscate a bill they’ve determined to be counterfeit — and, in fact, they should call the police about the bill while its owner is still there, so an officer can talk to that person and help track down where it came from.

“It’s an awkward conversation, I know, to tell someone, ‘Hey, that bill is fake. I need to take it; it’s illegal to use it,’ but it helps us narrow it down and see who might be making (counterfeit money),” Klever said.

Although a few counterfeit $20 bills might not seem like a big deal, they could be part of a larger group of bills in rotation — which is why it’s vital to confiscate them and immediately call the police, Bellinghausen said.

“We’ve been working a lot of cases lately that deal with time,” he said. “Time is very important in these cases.”

Bad checks are another way businesses lose money. If a business receives a bad check, it’s best to send it immediately to the Carroll County Attorney’s Office as well as to notify the police, rather than sending it on to a third-party collection agency, Bellinghausen said — an immediate report allows the police department to track down video surveillance.

Businesses also should train their employees to check IDs when taking checks and to write down a driver’s license number and phone number on each check they receive, Bellinghausen said.

There also are various techniques people might use to confuse a cashier and steal money. If there’s any question in a transaction, he directed, close the register and call a manager — or the police — to get it sorted out.

“It could be one of these guys making a living off us with free money,” Bellinghausen said.

The pair also discussed shoplifting. In the case of that crime, it helps to have surveillance video that shows the person both picking up the item and leaving without paying for it, Bellinghausen and Klever said.

And then call the police — don’t confront the person, they said.

“I don’t want your employees to go out and mug this guy and tackle and arrest him themselves,” Bellinghausen said. “Get his plate number. Get a description of his car and the best description of the person that you can — especially if you don’t have video.”

There are many scams that target residents, Bellinghausen said — from people pretending to be collecting on behalf of the IRS or a utility company, to a message from “Mark Zuckerberg” saying you won the Facebook lottery and need to give just a few hundred dollars to win your prize.

“The IRS won’t contact you by phone and won’t demand money from iTunes cards or prepaid cards,” Bellinghausen said. “If you ever get a person on the phone or internet and they say, ‘Get me a prepaid debit card and give me the numbers on it, or get an iTunes card and give me the numbers on it,’ it’s going to be a scam.”

Similarly, he said, actual contact from a utilities company will involve multiple letters in the mail and a final disconnect notice; it won’t involve a phone call saying service will be cut off in 45 minutes without the numbers from a prepaid debit card.

Oftentimes, scams will appear very legitimate, Bellinghausen said.

In “grandparent scams,” people find information about a family and contact someone, often an elderly person, claiming that a certain amount of money is needed immediately to bail a relative out of jail in a foreign country.

In fact, one woman in the audience said, she’d received two calls just the day before from someone claiming to be her oldest grandson.

With a variety of frauds and scams, there are warning signs that banks and businesses can look out for: a person switching money between prepaid cards; someone cashing a check that’s much larger than what is usually deposited; an elderly person suddenly sending large amounts of money to someone else.

As for scams that can affect residents, one tactic is simple: Don’t answer your phone if the number calling is unfamiliar, Bellinghausen said. If it’s important, the caller will leave a voicemail.

The Chamber of Commerce offers a “call-two warning system” to alert members of current scams, thefts or other problems, and the Chamber and police department are exploring other ways to notify businesses and residents of problems as they happen.

The police department plans to host a similar program to share more information in the coming months.