PARIS – In her desk at the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, Linda Hooker keeps a drawer full of checks written out for thousands of dollars.

All of them are worthless.

Hooker has collected the fraudulent checks, as well as false money orders, traveler’s cheques, and dozens of letters promising people a fortune.

“I always get a kick out of it,” says Hooker, “because they say in fine print, ‘Do not contact authorities.’ “

Hooker is a coordinator of the The Right Idea and Direction, or TRIAD, which works to protect seniors from crime and fraud. She also works as a secretary with the sheriff’s office.

Hooker says most scams are easily spotted, but the realism of some checks as well as the increasing sophistication of some cons are cause for concern.

One recent scam features callers claiming to be from the security department of a credit card company. The caller will say the card owner is eligible for a refund, and will ask for a three-digit PIN number on the back of the card rather than the card number.

Hooker says the number of scams does not increase during the holiday season, but increased costs for heat, medicine and food make people, especially seniors, more likely to buy into a scam that offers money.

“I think people are more susceptible,” she says.

While many letters are recognizable as scams, Hooker says the deceptions have become more sophisticated. A letter purporting to be from a United States District Court promises a refund of credit card fees in exchange for personal information, including the last four digits of a person’s Social Security number. Scams that enable money laundering now use fronts within the U.S., making them appear more legitimate than foreign promises such as the infamous scams claiming a windfall in an African country.

Hooker recommends that people who suspect a scam contact the sheriff’s office or their local police department. Those suspecting credit card misuse should contact their credit card provider immediately.

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