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Scam reports on the rise in Montana as fraudsters target unlikely demographic

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Posted at 5:20 PM, May 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 12:21:20-04

BILLINGS — According to the Federal Trade Commission, Montanans lost $21.1 million last year because of fraud, whether through impostor scams or identity theft. That's a 24% increase from 2022. One Billings resident has seen how the trends have changed over the last decade.

Bernie Wahl has been the Senior Deputy Jury Clerk for Yellowstone County for the past nine years, so she's experienced her fair share of encounters with scammers and their victims.

“It seems like in the past few months, it’s really, really ramped up,” Wahl said Wednesday at the Yellowstone County Courthouse.

Jury duty scams are common and a new version of one has recently popped up, keeping Wahl on her toes.

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Yellowstone County Senior Deputy Jury Clerk Bernie Wahl

“In the past week, I’ve gotten one. In the past month, I’ve gotten about five,” added Wahl.

A scammer, posing as a sheriff's deputy, will contact an unsuspecting victim.

“They’ll say you missed jury duty, you need to pay $3,000. But once you pay that $3,000, you’ll get it back and so they’ll go tell someone to take out $3,000,” Wahl said.

The scammer will then send the victim to a Coinstar machine to transfer the money.

“You would think that they were older but no, I’ve had people from their 20s to their 80s, it varies,” said Wahl.

“Actually it’s the younger generation who tends to be much more trusting. They’re on social media. They are more responsive to what’s happening on their phone, and the scam artists see that,” said Dale Dixon, the Chief Innovation Officer for Better Business Bureau's Great West Pacific Region.

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BBB Great West Pacific Region Chief Innovation Officer Dale Dixon

Dixon said that as technology progresses, so do the tactics that scammers employ.

“They’re able to basically take a computer and turn it into a robot that constantly texts, constantly calls. And now with artificial intelligence, it’s easy to make the voices sound better,” Dixon added.

According to the FTC, Montanans lost $3.6 million from fraud back in 2019. That number has steadily risen annual, with impostor scams being the biggest culprit each year.

“People are being more willing to share the story when they do become a victim of a scam,” said Dixon.

However, as scammers evolve, so do agencies like the Better Business Bureau.

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“We have dramatically improved the reporting structure around scams over the last ten years,” Dixon said.

The best thing you can do, Dixon said, is to ignore any suspicious or unknown calls, texts, and emails.

“The moment you find yourself curious, take a step back and say, I’m not even going to respond, I’m not going to give into that curiosity. Because the curiosity is the first step a scam artists uses,” added Dixon.

Wahl hopes the community will heed her words as it can happen to anyone.

“Before people victim blame and say oh, you shouldn’t fall for that. It’s not fair because there are a lot of extenuating circumstances. They’re very, very, very savvy,” said Wahl.