State police are warning people to be aware of fraudulent schemes asking for money, after reports of people in Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga and Tompkins counties sending large amounts of money to unknown individuals who contacted them via telephone.

As of June 2019, $352,000 was sent to phone scammers from people in Otsego, Chenango and Delaware counties, said Aga Dembinska, Troop C public information officer. Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl said the scammers can often be traced to a foreign country. However, prosecution is nearly impossible because many of the countries don't have an agreement where the scammers can be extradited in the United States, he said.

"The message is, don't ever ever send anything to anyone you don't know," Muehl said. "Before you do anything ... call the police or call my office."

Phone scammers often target the elderly population and play on people's emotions by, for example, claiming to be a friend or family member desperate for money. In many cases, the phone scammer will demand the victim obtain gift cards for Amazon, Google Play or Itunes, according to a June news release by New York State Police Troop C. 

The scammer may ask people to send the gift cards, photograph them or email the code that is used to redeem them. Some of the most recent scammers have told people to complete a Walmart money transfer and send cash by next-day air service using UPS or FedEx, according to the release. They may also demand money orders or cashier’s checks.

In many cases, scammers demand people send money to addresses that turn out to be vacant, Dembinska said. This not only makes it difficult to return peoples' money but also to find the scammers and hold them accountable.

In Oneonta, there was a case where a woman got a call from someone saying they needed $9,500 to get the woman's grandson out of prison, Dembinska said. The woman sent the scammers the money to the address they requested, which was in New Jersey. Unlike most phone scam cases, however, she was able to get her $9,500 back. She contacted the post office to inquire the location of the package, who told her it had been returned because the package required a signature and no one was home when it was delivered.

In addition to scare tactics, scammers may trick people into believing they've won the lottery — but need to pay the tax before receiving a lump-sum payment.

"Nobody should be sending anyone anything of value, no matter what their promise is," Muehl said. "Because if it sounds too good to be true, it is."

To avoid phone scams, the state police advise people not to provide personal information like their bank account or Social Security number over the phone, according to the release. If someone is calling pretending to be a family member or friend and asking for money, ask questions only that person would know. Then hang up and contact that person immediately. If you feel that you may be a victim and have lost money, contact your local police.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.