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State of Nevada After Dark: 1,000s are scammed in Nevada every year. What can you do?

State of Nevada After Dark
Kristen DeSilva/KNPR
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Joe Schoenmann hosts State of Nevada After Dark at Rebar in Las Vegas on March 31, 2022.

Each year, thousands of Nevadans are cheated out of their money.

The Federal Trade Commission said every day in Nevada, about 120 people are victimized by scammers.

In 2021, as the delta variant took hold, the state saw a 22% increase in fraud reports. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police say money lost to fraud increased from $36.5 million to about $70 million last year.

And if you saw Thursday's headlines, you read about someone being scammed out of $500,000 in Bitcoin. Most people shrug or shake their heads at those stories. There’s one born every minute, they tell themselves, until it happens to them.

Scammers today are not simpletons: the schemes they dream up to get your money can be extremely sophisticated and believable.

‘MORE AND MORE COMPLEX’

"We have been very busy the last few years ... mainly we're seeing a lot of imposter scams,” said Laura Tucker, the deputy attorney general.

These are scams where the scammer pretends to be someone they’re not, such as a grandparent scam. She said a grandparent scam is when the victim is called by the scammer, pretending to be their relative in an emergency. They’ll tell the victim they need money immediately for a hospital or jail scenario.

Get a text from your "bank" that looks a little shady? It will usually come with a link that goes to a fake website, or maybe you get a call from someone pretending to be at your bank, asking for your information. That's what she's talking about.

Or when the “power company” calls, saying the power is going to be shut off and are demanding money to keep it on. In Las Vegas, police have notified the public regularly that they will never call and demand money for a warrant on the phone.

"And they're getting more and more complex,” she said.

The attorney general’s office looks at the number of complaints on a particular scam for what they call “a pattern and practice.”

If you've been scammed in Nevada, Tucker said you can fill out a form on  ag.nv.gov to report it.

Jennifer, who called in Thursday night, asked if the scam was committed in another state, could they report it in Nevada?

“The victim at the very least has to be in Nevada. … If you're located in Nevada, and you have a scam, something that's committed against you, then that's enough that you could file a complaint with our office,” Tucker said.

‘A SENSE OF TRUST’

Charity scams have been prominent lately, mentions Melissa Rorie, the chair of UNLV’s department of criminal justice.

“Successful scammers are really able to promote a sense of trust with their victims through a variety of ways,” Rorie said.

These crimes are most often committed by white suspects, Rorie said. Part of her research has been finding out why that is.

“We postulated and have been studying about how that racial and social isolation might produce a sense of entitlement and kind of a lack of empathy,” she said, also noting a lack of perspective.

‘THERE’S A GROOMING PROCESS’

Sgt. Beth Schmidt from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said love scams are "incredibly common."

Referring to a caller's story Thursday night, she said, "There's a grooming process that happens. People end up without any money. Not only are you financially scammed, you're emotionally scammed."

Rental scams are also a huge problem. Schmidt said victims will find a home listed online, the "seller" or "landlord" gains your trust, and via phone will want the victim to send money or usually gift cards. Once the money is sent, that's the end of it. The home will have already been legitimately rented or sold by a real landlord or may not have been legitimately listed at all. The problem, she said, is that the victim has never met the suspect.

Also, scammers will use third-party apps such as Zelle or Venmo to transfer money, and more often than not, those companies say you're out of luck once the money is sent. 

"We get a few of these every week," she said. "There's such anonymity to it, we can't prove who took your money."

She said police take these steps when they receive a scam report:

  • Protect the victim’s identity moving forward, freezing accounts
  • Credit monitoring
  • If activity shows in another state, contact that jurisdiction and open case there
  • If it’s an online scam, police would send the case to ic3.gov

"Trust is essential to a functioning society, especially in today's business market. ... [Victims] are just people trying to control their lives in a complicated and often hard economic society to live in," said Rorie. "Please know that this is not your fault."

Laura Tucker, deputy attorney general; Beth Schmidt, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police sergeant, consumer fraud; Melissa Rorie, department chair, UNLV’s department of criminal justice

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.
Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.