How to avoid getting scammed
IT worker, real estate agent, police chief offer advice

By Karen Pilarski - Freeman  Staff

Sept. 2, 2015

WAUKESHA - For several weeks Stacy Niven of Waukesha heard her phone ring repeatedly. She looked at the caller ID and noticed a 888 number. One day she picked up the receiver and there was a person with an accent on the line. The person mentioned a computer in her household that was producing errors and needed to be fixed.  

Little did the caller know that Niven has been in IT for 20 years. She cut the person off and knew it was a scam.

Niven allowed her three children to listen to the conversations so they understood the types of scams they might encounter. She said, “When receiving an email, make sure you use the mouse to hover over the name of the sender. That will tell you where the email is coming from and if it is really from a sender such as Microsoft or company you do business with.” 

Niven has also had calls from people claiming to be from her bank. She said people should always tell the caller they will call them back and ask for the number. She said, “If it is a scam, they will hang up.”

Home sellers beware

Scott Klaas, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in New Berlin, has dealt with scams in his work. He has had homes that were for sale show up online as being for rent by someone other than the actual owner.

He said, “It starts out with posts on Craigslist.  Someone is out of the country on a church mission and has to rent their house as soon as possible. They can’t meet since they are out of the country. The house would normally rent for $1,500 to $2,000, but they will rent it out for $600-$800. They ask the person to send them a security deposit and that they will mail out the key.”

If people are trying to secure out of state housing, they may fall for this.

Klaas said real estate agents often monitor sites like Zillow and Craigslist to be on alert. Clients will call the police and call the agent about the posting. They then contact the Internet site to take it down. The bad part is it is often untraceable and once people report it, the scam artists go on to a different house.

Klaas said although such scams don’t come up very often, people should still question if something seems too good to be true.

Send us money because ...

Delafield Police Chief Erik Kehl has noticed reports of calls indicating a person owes money and must wire money from Walmart. He said residents also receive calls saying they have to pay a bill and still owe money.

In another scam, a grandchild is in jail and the victim needs to pay a certain amount to bail them out. In his experience it is always a simple formula: “Send us money because XYZ.”

Kehl has noticed scams run in streaks and no reports have come up recently for his department. He said, “Around tax time we were getting hammered with reports of IRS scams. We do have the technology and people to track down where it is coming from but it ends up being overseas, which there is not much we can do with that.”

He suggests residents confirm and question everything. He said, “OK, you are fixing my computer but I didn’t give you permission. For the jailed grandchild, ask for a number to call them back, then call the parent or grandchild.” He said the police won’t call asking to collect money by wiring through Walmart or a third party.

Kehl said people should always be aware but be especially mindful during holidays, since scammers prey on busy people. During the holiday season people just want to take care of things quickly. Because people are juggling 20 different things, they can fall victim to scamming schemes, he said.

Kehl pointed out that the elderly are most preyed on. He is not saying they are gullible or prone to make mistakes; he feels everyone is vulnerable.

“I think they really care,” he said. “If they get a call saying their grandchild is in trouble or danger they will try to help them. The criminals are preying on that emotional conflict.”

Lisa Schiller, director of investigations and media relations of the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin, said people can check on companies and charities throughout the U.S. and Canada for free on They can also post a review (positive, negative, or neutral) or file a complaint, report a scam or suggest an investigation.