Authorities train for fight against fraud
By Adam Leech
PORTSMOUTH - They prey on the weak and strike during all hours of the day. Scam artists are becoming increasingly better at their craft, which is forcing state agencies to fight back.
Training for the AARP’s Fraud Fighter program was held at the Sheraton Harborside on Thursday for 40 county law-enforcement officers and volunteers. The program teaches people how to educate the public on the different types of fraud and scams, which is a growing problem in the state, particularly among the elderly.
Richard Head, senior assistant attorney general, said his office gets 17,000 calls every year reporting some kind of fraud, adding "and that’s just the tip of the iceberg."
Jennifer Leach, of the AARP consumer protection team, said many cases of fraud go unreported because the victims are embarrassed and feel like it’s their fault. The point of Thursday’s meeting, she said, is to make people more aware and comfortable
"Older people feel they’re stupid; ‘It’s my fault,’ ‘I should have known better,’ ‘I’m so ashamed,’" said Leach. "But the bad guys are that good."
Seniors are particularly susceptible to phone scams because they’ve been taught to be polite and are less likely to hang up on a potential scammer, she said. Also, many have limited financial resources, she said, and look for "easy money" to pass on to their grandchildren and children.
The public is encouraged to do regular credit checks to ensure credit levels are normal and purchases are legitimate.
Leach encouraged the audience to use stories of people who have been scammed to make the public aware of how frequently the scams occur.
"It’s your stories that will affect people," she said.
Joe Byron, deputy sheriff for Hillsborough County, shared a story about a couple ripped apart because the wife was victim of identity theft. The husband blamed her for losing thousands of dollars and the scam eventually ended the marriage of 36 years.
"We have to remember this is not only a financial crime," said Byron. "There’s no line these criminals won’t cross."
Byron also showed slides of the inside of one home where 28 boxes of mail were stacked in one couple’s basement; just in case one of them held the winning entry to the numerous sweepstakes she signed up for. They lost $70,000 in two years.
"Nothing in my career has shocked me more than in the last four years," said Byron, a law enforcement veteran of over 20 years. "They systematically make you weaker while they get stronger."
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For more information, visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft