Cullman Police are warning citizens, particularly elderly residents, to be wary of persons who call them and attempt to solicit personal information such as their social security or bank account numbers.

In recent weeks police investigators have received reports of attempted scams involving elderly residents in which some have reported unauthorized debits on their bank accounts.

"A 71-year-old lady here in Cullman was contacted by telephone by what I assume was a telemarketer, but the woman thought she was talking to a representative from her local bank. Unfortunately, we receive a lot of those types of calls, way too many in fact," said Cullman Police Capt. Max Bartlett. "In this particular case, the local woman started out talking with a female, who later in the conversation switched her call to a male who 'sealed the deal' so to speak by soliciting the woman's checking account information."

In return for a $398 debit on her bank account, the woman was to receive a pharmaceutical catalog and a book of discount coupons, Bartlett said.

"The debit showed up on the woman's account payable to Priority Savings Group of Champlain, N.Y. We contacted them and they provided us with a copy of the tape recording of the conversation between the telemarketers and the elderly victim," Bartlett said. "These people are so smooth and fast talking in their spiel. I'm a captain of detectives and when I played back the recording, I had a hard time keeping up. No wonder the lady got confused."

When he challenged the company on its sales practices, a representative justified the transaction as legal "because they say they actually sold her a product — which in this case was a catalog and a book of coupons. That's not a lot for $398," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the company's representatives told the victim she would receive her products in four to six weeks. After the conversation concluded, Bartlett said the woman became concerned and contacted her local bank, which explained they were in no way involved.

"The bank charged the debit back to the company, so the woman is not out any money. It's just a good thing that she reacted as quickly as she did," Bartlett said.

In this particular case, Bartlett said the company may be selling a legitimate product, "but at the very least I'd rate their sales techniques as questionable."

"Citizens, particularly the elderly, need to be aware of these types of situations. You shouldn't, under any circumstances, give out any personal information like a Social Security number of checking account number," Bartlett said. "These types of scams are fairly common. The caller often promises something of value in exchange for their account information and some people are willing to give it. The perpetrator then uses that information to make a direct withdrawal from the victim's account."

Anyone who suspects they are, or have been, the target of such a scam should contact the police department at 775-7170. Bartlett said information received will be documented and turned over to the FBI for investigation.

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