10-15-2020 With pandemic come scams; Lazy Ballerina Winery co-owner is Rotary guest speaker

BOOK VENDING MACHINES… The Pokagon Fund and the Hartford Public Schools Foundation for Quality Education joined forces to underwrite the Inchy the Bookworm at Hartford’s Redwood Elementary. Principal Chris Quist has patiently waited since March, due to COVID-19 delays, to unveil the pair of machines in her building. As the first of their kind in SW Michigan, Inchy repurposes spiral vending mechanisms to dispense books instead of the usual salty snacks. Students earn purchase tokens as rewards for good behavior, good grades, and good attendance. The titles are refreshed on a regular basis with grade-level appropriate books that the kids then personally own, to build their own home library. The program is a passion project for Global Vending President Jay Blumberg who came up with the idea after speaking with an educator about literacy challenges in their district. He quickly developed a prototype and began meeting with schools and book publishers to support the program.

With pandemic come scams

Van Buren County Sheriff reports By Annette Christie Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel E. Abbott reports that there are multiple scams being reported and he is urging residents to be vigilant when approached by suspicious people, phone calls or emails. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, get a return phone number, etc. Do some research before responding and/or ask for assistance,” Abbott said. The utility company scam puts con artists impersonating internet, cable TV, or electricity company representatives on the phone with innocent residents. They claim to offer a great deal or rebate on your bill, but it’s really a way to trick unsuspecting customers into shelling out hundreds of dollars. Residents receive an unsolicited call offering you a reduced rate or rebate on your cable TV, electricity or other recurring bill. Speaking to the “customer service representative” may be quite convincing. Many scammers even use the same hold music as big-name providers and duplicate a company’s caller menu. When speaking with the representative, they seem very professional. The caller explains that the company is offering a special promotion. If you pay several months up front, you can receive a discounted monthly rate or free perks, like premium cable channels. In another version of the con, the caller claims that you overpaid on a recent bill and are due for a rebate. Then, things get fishy. Instead of using the payment information your cable company already has, they ask you to purchase pre-paid debit cards to make the up-front payment. Don’t do it! If you purchase the cards and send the information to the caller, your money will be lost for good. The Sheriff offers these tips: Never make payments with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Scammers prefer these payment methods because there is nothing you can do to get your money back. Remember, legitimate companies almost always accept checks and credit cards as the primary means of payment.

If someone shows up at your doorstep, verify their identity. If you weren’t expecting a visit, ask the person for their ID and then call your cable company to verify that they are an employee.

When in doubt, verify special deals with your utility company. If you are unsure about a promotional offer you’ve been presented with, get the customer service number from the company’s official website or your latest bill. Call the company directly to make sure the offer is real. Some inventive scammers are using COVID-19 as a way to scam people in the form of a grant. In tough economic times, it can be hard to turn down free money – especially if it appears to come from a friend. BBB.org/ScamTracker is receiving numerous reports that con artists are stealing information from Facebook and Instagram accounts and promoting phony COVID-19 relief grants to their network and friends list. The scam starts when residents get a Facebook Messenger chat or Instagram direct message that looks like it comes from a friend, relative, community member, or other person they trust. The message tells about a grant for COVID-19 relief. The scammer may claim to have already applied and received thousands of dollars. Scammers are either hacking social media accounts or creating separate look-a-like profiles by stealing photos and personal information. Either way, these con artists are banking that residents will trust a message that appears to come from someone they know. For example, one recent victim was contacted by someone posing as a leader in their church. “This scam was very convincing. [It looked like it came from] someone I know and trust,” they wrote. “Because of COVID-19, I’m laid off, so I would try it. [The scammer] said my name was on a list to receive this grant money. I lost $1,000.00 of my unemployment.” While many people report being targeted through social media that is not the only way scammers are reaching potential victims. Other versions of this scam use phone calls and text messages. No matter how you hear about a “grant,” there’s a major catch! To get the “grant,” you need to pay up front first. The scammer will claim the money pays for “delivery” or “processing.” The scammer will take the money, and your grant will never materialize. The Sheriff warns, “Don’t pay any money for a ‘free’ government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a ‘free’ grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant you have already been awarded. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.” Learn more about government scams at www.BBB.org/GrantScam. For advice on keeping your Facebook account secure, check out Facebook Help Center.

Lazy Ballerina Winery co-owner is Rotary guest speaker

Lauren Kniebes, co-owner of Lazy Ballerina Winery, was guest speaker at the Paw Paw Lake Rotary Club Zoom meeting on Sept. 9 which was hosted by Bob Becker, Rotary member.


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