Scam Jam teaches citizens about fraud and scams

May. 15, 2013 @ 05:33 AM

Regardless of age, everyone can fall prey to fraud and scams and it is essential that citizens keep their guards up against crooks and con artists.

Members of the community were educated and reminded about ways to protect themselves against scams, fraud and con artists during the Scam Jam at the Rutherford County Senior Center Tuesday morning.

The Senior Center, in coordination with the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State, North Carolina Department of Justice and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, hosted representatives from several different state agencies speaking about fraud prevention.

“There are so many doors open to people who scam these days, and we’re so thankful to have people from these agencies come and speak to us and jog seniors’ minds regarding scams,” said Thomas Johnson, a retired law enforcement officer who attended the Scam Jam.

Scam Jam attendees were provided materials explaining various scamming techniques being used against North Carolinians, including identity theft, telephone and telemarketing fraud, sweepstakes and charity scams, predatory lending practices, investment fraud, deceptive business practices, health care scams and door-to-door home repair fraud. While most of these scams are used against consumers of all ages, many of them target seniors.

According to Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, seniors are hit by scammers harder, and more often than other consumers. Criminals attempt to take advantage of seniors’ trusting nature, faltering memory or financial status.

“I am used to working with senior citizens and unfortunately many of them are naive and often let their guard down,” Johnson said. “What grandmother do you know that wouldn’t invite a clean-cut man into her home?”

Recently, a number of seniors have been victimized by the “Grandma/Grandpa, It’s Me” scam. In this scam, seniors are conned into sending money to callers posing as their grandchildren. The call comes from overseas or out of state, and the caller claims to be in the hospital or in jail.

The Attorney General’s office has also received many reports of sweetheart scams, where con artists use the promise of romance to trick victims into giving them money. Traditionally these scams take place face-to-face, but with the rise of the Internet they are now also conducted online. These scams result in serious financial damage and emotional pain to the victim.

Sheriff Chris Francis discussed the new avenues that scammers are using, such as text messaging, cell phones, the Internet, e-mail and social media.

“Scammers are utilizing new technology to attack our citizens,” Francis said. “One of the biggest things I’ve seen here locally is the promise that you’ve won a sweepstakes, but first you’re asked to pay a large amount of money in taxes or fees to claim your prize money. The best way to protect yourself is to not give your information out over the phone or the Internet. And if anybody comes to your house, you should ask for credentials. Don’t allow anybody into your house that you don’t know.”

Carol Young of the North Carolina Department of Justice spoke about identity theft during the Scam Jam. She reminded people to not carry Social Security and Medicare cards in wallets, to keep a watchful eye on incoming and outgoing snail mail and to watch billing cycles for missing bills.

“We encourage you to avoid leaving your incoming mail in an unlocked mailbox, and to place your outgoing mail into a locked mailbox, such as a blue postal service box,” Young said.

Young also spoke about online security and stressed the importance of having good passwords for online accounts, consisting of at least eight characters that include letters, numbers and symbols.

“I think this event is a wonderful thing,” said Jean Johnson, who attended the Scam Jam. “I have taken my driver’s license number off of my checks and have been safer with handing out my information.”

During the Scam Jam Detective Phillip Bailey of the Sheriff’s Office answered questions regarding phony police detective scams in which scammers knock on doors claiming to be police detectives. They claim they are on the hunt for criminals or escaped prisoners, and ask permission to look around the house or apartment and proceed to steal valuables when residents are not looking.

“Even if someone claims they are with law enforcement, you still need to verify their identity before you give out any personal information,” Bailey said.

Bailey also addressed scams involving questionable charities that often adopt names that sound like law enforcement agencies. Deceitful telephone solicitors like to use police-sounding names because they know people generally support law enforcement.

Bailey said in both scam situations, people are encouraged to call the police to verify the visitor’s or caller’s identity. Furthermore, if people want to support a particular group, such as the local police, they should contact the agency directly to find out the best way to do so.

“Locally, we don’t solicit money from anyone, whether over the phone or in person,” Bailey said.

The speakers summed up the Scam Jam with basic rules to help protect consumers of all ages against scams: protect all personal information; do not talk to strangers or let them into homes; never pay money to receive money; be wary of door-to-door contractors and others offering home repair services; avoid get-rich-quick schemes.

“And always remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Young said.