Phillip Spencer enjoyed a successful and busy career with the Greenville Police Department, but what he has seen since retiring a few months ago has been even more surprising.
Spencer was the guest speaker recently at a meeting of the Greenville Noon Rotary Club.
Spencer currently works with Samsung, assisting the electronics firm with investigating corporate fraud. He said these days, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where more people are using the Inernet to shop for items at home, the criminals are working overtime to find new ways to scam the public.
“They are becoming more organized,” Spencer said. “It really has kind of opened my eyes.”
Spencer served 15 years with the Greenville Police Department, being honored in 2019 as the Greenville Kiwanis Police Officer of the Year. He had been part of the Crisis Intervention Team, Juvenile Division, Crimes Against Persons and the Criminal Investigations Division and was also the department’s representative in working with the United States Secret Service.
During the capital murder trial of Chacey Poynter, Spencer presented testimony concerning the defendant’s text messages. It was his work in obtaining and presenting the cellphone evidence that helped him find the position with Samsung, where he is dealing with catching a new level of crook.
Much of his investigative efforts are focused on crimes committed online and people may not be aware of the extent of the criminal activity which is on the Internet.
“And they are right there every day,” Spencer said. “They are not even working off the Dark Web.”
Spencer said one of the largest cons operating right now is “professional refunding” through the food delivery business.
How it works is a customer orders pizzas to be delivered to a location. Shortly thereafter the restaurant receives contact from someone claiming they never received the food and demanding a refund. When the restaurant pays, the professional refunder receives a percentage of the money.
“It can generate thousands of dollars a day just from food orders,” Spencer said, adding that companies such as Samsung, Target and Walmart are also the victims of similar scams.
In Samsung’s case, someone orders multiple phones and shortly thereafter they indicate they no longer wanted the items or claim they were damaged. Samsung agrees to refund the purchase, but by the time the company determines the phones are not in the boxes that are returned, the refund has been accepted and the culprit is nowhere to be found.
Spencer said professional refunding operations are easily found online.
“They are getting bold,” he said.
Another focus of Spencer’s investigation has been the Wish.com website, which offers high-quality items of all kinds at extremely low prices.
“There’s a lot of products that claim to be what they aren’t,” Spencer said.
For example, the company shows some of the top of the line Samsung cellphone models. But what customers usually receive is anything but.
“They are often counterfeit products … that overheat and start fires,” he said.
He also is aware of a scam operating in the real estate industry, even locally. Spencer warned the real estate professionals in the Rotary Club to keep a close watch on their listings, especially for rental properties. Unscrupulous individuals are copying the listings online as their own and then renting them, often with large upfront payments. The realtor who does have the property can arrive to find people living in the home for weeks or months.
Spencer said everyone needs to pay attention and do a double check before making any significant purchases.
“If it sounds too good to be true, believe me, it is too good to be true,” he said.