Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
The hundreds of scams floating around eastern Iowa at any given moment come in all forms, everything from mail and phone scams to e-mail and text-messaging.
Sarah Steffen, of New Vienna, said she recently almost fell prey to a scam because it seemed so legitimate, but only up to a point.
She graduated from Iowa State University with a dual degree in chemical engineering and Spanish and is currently getting further engineering certification at Northeast Iowa Community College. It was there Monday afternoon she and some friends sat around the lunch table and discussed scams. Her friend, Samantha Peterson, also recently almost wandered into the trap of a scammer but, like Steffen, saw enough red flags to quit before losing any money.
In Steffen's case, she's on a legitimate babysitting website called Care.com, which is intended to be used to connect parents and sitters and nannies, so when she got a text from someone claiming to be a mom from Care.com, Steffen had no reason to doubt.
"I thought, well, Care.com, I go through that website all the time and get instant messages all the time from them," Steffen said.
The "mom" promised to pay Steffen $15 an hour, enough to cause Steffen to consider leaving her summer job as an NICC tutor to nanny instead, but it's a good thing she didn't immediately act on that.
The person told Steffen she was a single mom living in Phoenix but soon moving to the Dubuque area. She said she was hard of hearing and her six-year-old son had been in a dirt bike accident, which required him to be in a wheelchair. The messages were in broken English with poor grammar, but Steffen said she assumed this person was being honest and just that maybe English wasn't the writer's first language.
Soon, however, the e-mails from this person got fishier and fishier.
"She told me that she'd pay me up front for the first week, and so I knew that was kind of strange, and then she wanted me to put a down payment on a wheelchair or purchase it and then it would be delivered to my house," Steffen said.
After an Internet search of the woman's phone number revealed it was connected to a call center, Steffen gracefully bowed out with an e-mail, saying she'd accepted another job.
"I've never had that elaborate of a story made up personally for me, targeting me," Steffen said, surprised the scammers went after her.
"I'm just a normal person. Graduated from college, trying to get different jobs and trying to find a full time job and baby-sitting on the side and tutoring, and you wouldn't think they'd target me because I'm not rich or anything," Steffen said.
Her friend Samantha Peterson also nearly fell victim to a scam. She got an e-mail asking her to becoming an honor student, though with no mention of NICC. Peterson said she filled out the first web page asking for basic information but then balked when she submitted that and went on to the second page, which asked her for $50 and her credit card information. She stopped the process right then and there.
An email soon after from NICC warned her and other students it was a scam going around.
Lt. Scott Baxter with the Dubuque police department said scammers, unfortunately, are getting better and better at being deceptive.
"They're taking old scams and modifying them, putting a different spin on them," Baxter said. "They're very creative in terms of how they rip off people or try and convince them that it's legitimate."
He said scammers may specifically target Iowa because of its older population and reputation for having trusting, honest people.
If anybody has a question about whether a possible transaction may be a scam, Baxter said people should contact their local police department. If anybody gets hit by a scam and loses money through it, he says, they should report the crime.
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