When the contents of a package are listed as ‘cake in foil,’ something is amiss.
Someone tried to mail that package at Postal Connections in Stayton, but one of the employees thought it sounded strange and alerted owner Sue Harteloo.
After witnessing the rise in scams during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harteloo contacted the Stayton Police Department to investigate the package.
They found a stack of $100 bills inside.
It was one of three incidents of fraud Harteloo and her staff identified and reported to Stayton Police in July, and the department was able to recover $22,000 in cash and return it to those who had been scammed.
“Any amount of money like that is a big hit for any of us,” Stayton Police Chief David Frisendahl said. “Having fellow community members that are looking out for your best interest is a great thing.”
Scammers have grown aggressive in the past few months, and people have been vulnerable enough to fall for them.
“As much as you try and warn some people, they don’t want to hear that maybe they’ve been suckered into a situation that’s not quite right,” Harteloo said.
“They’re neighbors and friends who have supported us over the years and I don’t want to offend anybody, but I don’t want to hurt anybody either.”
Harteloo said she took the actions to protect her customers; Stayton Police awarded Harteloo a certificate of appreciation for her efforts.
Helping protect her community
Harteloo and husband, Don, have lived in Stayton since 1989. They purchased the Postal Connections franchise in Stayton in 2003 and raised their two daughters in the community.
Being in the package shipping business for nearly two decades, Harteloo has become attuned to when a fraud is potentially occurring.
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There was a time a few years ago when a woman attempted to ship a package of crystal methamphetamine.
“And she was actually caught and arrested right out in the parking lot,” Harteloo said. “We had a fairly quick response from the police on that one. She had gone and done some shopping over at Roth’s or Bi-Mart, and the police came and determined the package contained drugs.
“They arrested her on trafficking because she had more in the car.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit – other than a slow last week of March – the business at Postal Connections has picked up as people have shipped more locally, Harteloo said.
And there has been an increase in fraud around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an update delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee in June, FBI assistant director Calvin Shivers said the department’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received nearly as many complaints in the first five months of 2020 – about 320,000 – as it did in all of 2019.
“We need more vigilance and awareness,” Frisendahl said. “Call your local law enforcement. We are here to talk those things through with you. We may not have the answer, but we can find it.”
Scammers getting more aggressive
Harteloo said she caught a couple instances of fraud in July where two people on the same day tried to send iPhones to boyfriends or girlfriends to the same address in Texas.
When she alerted the second customer, she took it to another store and shipped it anyway.
“But the gal two weeks later came back to us and said, ‘I need you to try and get my package back from Texas,’” Harteloo said.
The common theme between the cash scams in July is the victims were trying to ship the package overnight.
Harteloo said one instance was computer fraud where the perpetrator was holding the victim’s computer ransom with malware and demanded cash be mailed; another was receiving bad checks, cashing them and mailing the cash; and the third was someone being told a family member was in jail and needed cash for bail.
Harteloo says she has authorization from UPS and FedEx to check a package if the value declared seems incorrect, but she called the Stayton Police in each of the three instances.
“When we see people on the phone talking to you when they’re getting instructions, you kind of stop,” Harteloo said. “That’s kind of what happened on several of these.”
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The bail scam has increased in popularity during the pandemic.
Frisendahl said law enforcement will not ask for cash for bail, and jails and prisons won’t accept cash.
“It’s not going to happen,” Frisendahl said.
Frisendahl said in his experience senior citizens have been the target of many scams and are more likely to send cash.
“I would recommend people to be a little suspicious,” Frisendahl said. “Clarify, ask to verify, listen to what they’re saying, those types of things. Be cautious with your computers where you’re at on the web. VPN’s. If you don’t know where to get that help, ask.”
Harteloo’s skepticism paid off for herself this week.
A person called claiming to be from Portland General Electric and threatened to cut off the power to her building in 45 minutes.
The only electricity provider in Stayton is Pacific Power.
“If you get a call from someone that you don’t know or someone communicates with you that you’re not aware of who they are, be suspicious,” Harteloo said.
“Call someone else who may know the situation better, but don’t let someone bully you into getting cash or anything of monetary value until you have clarified the situation.”
Bill Poehler covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler
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