AMHERST - When it comes to fraud prevention, Google can be your friend.
Sgt. Dwayne Pike of the Amherst Police Department's major crime unit said it's not uncommon for people's e-mail accounts to be deluged with business opportunities, lottery wins and offers of free cruises and trips.
If they look too good to be true, it's pretty much a certainty they are.
"There are some out there that you know they are scams as soon as you look at them, but there's a growing number of scams out there that aren't as evident. They're presenting a very convincing case and you really have to be very careful not to fall for it," said Pike, who said Amherst residents are generally quite cautious when it comes to responding to scam artists.
"Scam artists are becoming more sophisticated. These people aren't stupid and for every 20 they send out, they may get one back."
From the so-called Nigerian letters that began showing up in the infancy of the Internet, the number of cases of online fraud has continued to cause headaches for citizens and law enforcement agencies alike.
Pike said the best advice he can give people when confronted with something that just doesn't seem right is to walk away from it or run it through a search engine like Google.
"You'd be surprised how much of a help Google can be," he said. "If you type in what the offer is or the subject, you'll quickly learn it's a scam."
One of the biggest scams on the go involves the use of buy-and-sell sites like Kijiji or eBay, in which a purported buyer contacts the seller about an item and sends a cheque worth much more than the selling price.
The seller is asked to cash the cheque, keep a bit for him or herself and send the rest back. A couple of days later, the seller learns the cheque is fraudulent.
"We've had that happen several times and people have lost quite a bit of money," he said. "We mostly get reports about attempted scams because people often recognize something's not right. On occasion, though, we still get calls from people saying they got a cheque in the mail and don't know what it's about."
The biggest thing, he said, is to remember nothing in life is free and that an offer promising instant riches is indeed too good to be true.
Another scam that has taken a few people in Cumberland in recent months involves a young person calling a senior citizen and saying he is in trouble and needs financial assistance.
The senior wires the money only to find out the grandson was never in trouble.
Another case involves people being sent e-mails saying their friend is stranded in a foreign country and needs help getting home.
Pike said another scam involved an advertisement in the newspaper about renting a property.
He added many scams also involve identity theft.
Some recent examples of attempted fraud:
• Cheque overpayment. Consumer is sent an inflated cheque for an item they are selling.
• Lottery e-mails advising consumers they have hit the jackpot.
• 1-900 scams in which victim is urged to collect a prize by calling a 900 number, only to be billed a significant amount of money.
• Advanced fee loans. Ads that appear in newspapers, magazines and tabloids promising loans but requesting an up-front fee of hundreds or thousands of dollars.