CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - They call themselves the scam squad. It’s an organization right here in Cuyahoga County working to make sure your cash and identity are protected.
Now, they’re partnering with 19 News to get the word out about the latest scams and making sure you don’t become a victim.
“We have about twice as many scam reports this year than we did last year, but sadly most folks haven’t heard about us yet,” said Sheryl Harris, Cuyahoga County Director of the Department of Consumer Affairs.
The network of experts include law enforcement and senior services officials from county and state-wide agencies.
“If you get scammed once, the chances are you’re going to get a lot more calls and a lot more scam attempts because your name gets sold, your contact information."
The Scam Squad has been protecting Cuyahoga County residents since 2016. On average, about $2.6 million is lost each year to fraud, mostly to older Americans, but scammers aren’t picky when it comes to victims.
“Young people are as likely to be scammed as older people, it’s just that different scams appeal to them,” Harris said.
19 News met a woman named Mary who was an unsuspecting victim of something called the minister scam. She gave hundreds of dollars to scammers. When she found out it wasn’t really her pastor on the other end of an email, she called the Scam Squad.
"I’m thankful for the scam squad and for all the organizations that are helping, for sure,” Mary said.
Scams like this plus student loan debt, paycheck fraud, and even social security scams are getting more elaborate and anyone can be a victim.
"They can make many calls and even if just a few of those people pick up and pay money then they’ve had a payday,” Harris explained.
The Scam Squad helps thousands of people each year, whether they’ve lost $60 dollars or $60,000.
You call into the line and they direct you to one of their experts who can help you file reports, complaints, and maybe even get your money back.
Larissa Bungo is a member of the squad. She works with the Federal Trade Commission right here in Cleveland. Recently, her agency was able to track down a scammer taking millions from people with student loan debt.
“Some of the robocalls you hear sound very personalized. Like it’s your aunt calling,” Bungo said.
In addition to the FTC, Scam Squad members have a variety of backgrounds they include:
- Benjamin Rose Institute
- Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland
- Cleveland Department of Aging
- Cleveland Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs
- Cleveland Police Department
- Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs
- Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services
- Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department
- Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
- Ohio Attorney General’s Office
- Cuyahoga County Prosecutor
- U.S. Federal Trade Commission
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service
Finding these scammers isn't an easy or quick task. That's why the Scam Squad is making sure you know what to look for, before it's too late. 19 News will be bringing you some of the latest scams executed by the trickiest criminals to make sure you know what to look out for.
If you think you’ve been scammed or even stopped a scam from happening, call the Scam Squad at 216-443-SCAM.