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Avoid the Scams!

By Laguna Woods Village Security Director Tim Moy

Over the course of my law enforcement career, I had the opportunity to directly supervise or manage multiple investigative teams. One such assignment was the Economic Crimes Detail where I witnessed firsthand the shameless criminal enterprises that target our elderly communities. I was well aware of the frauds, scams and other forms of theft aimed indiscriminately at various demographics across our county, however, what was most appalling was the directed attack against our seniors.

Even with laws in place designed specifically to protect our senior citizens, financial elder abuse continues to be a growing problem within our society. Sadly, criminals who make a living stealing from others have no moral compass and will not hesitate to swindle the hard-earned life savings of unsuspecting victims, especially seniors. As you know, most criminals are opportunistic in nature and will prey upon those who offer the greatest return at the lowest risk of being identified and/or prosecuted. Unfortunately, in many cases, seniors fall within this group and potentially make ideal targets.

Despite ongoing efforts to educate our communities on the most current scams, many will still become victims. Although some forms of theft are difficult to avoid, staying informed and vigilant are the first steps to identifying and preventing a potential scam. 

A few of the more common financial scams occurring within our region

  • Jury duty scam: You receive a call from a “representative” of the court alleging you failed to report for jury duty and a warrant has been issued for your arrest. You're then offered a choice to either pay for the warrant or have an officer sent over to arrest you. The fraudster will typically demand money be paid by money transfer, wire or by loading a prepaid card.
  • IRS scam: This scam is quite similar to the jury duty scam, but takes advantage of most Americans' inherent fear of the Internal Revenue Service. The phone call purports to be from the police or an IRS agent who is demanding payment for overdue taxes. If they're not settled immediately, the call claims, you'll be arrested. They'll want the money either wired or put on a prepaid card.
  • Lottery scam: While the other scams prey on fear, this one aims to convince you that you've won money in a foreign lottery. Never mind that you can't recall ever entering one! The call will come from someone who sounds official and advise that before you can collect your winnings, you must first pay the upfront taxes usually in the form of several thousand dollars.
  • Grandparent scam: You receive a phone call from someone posing as a grandchild who is supposedly out of town and in a desperate situation. They could claim to be in jail, injured from a car accident, stranded in a foreign country and in need of medical treatment. They'll want money wired to them.
  • On-line Romance Scam: Scammers use email to try and build an online relationship with you and they eventually profess their love. Some will even host fake webcam sessions or even call you on the phone.  Once they sense you are falling in love with their persona, the scam kicks into high gear. An “emergency” (mother hospitalized, surgery needed) suddenly arises and they ask for money. They may even want to meet you, but need money to apply for a VISA to come see you. Little does the victim realize that he or she is talking to a professional con artist.
  • Check Scam: Check scams involve a con artist offering to buy an item from a seller (often an item that has been put up for sale online through Craigslist) using a cashier’s check, which is made out for an amount that is greater than necessary. The scammer then asks that the check be cashed, and the excess funds returned. Of course, the check is fraudulent, but if the money is returned before the seller realizes this, they have lost the funds – as well as the item they put up for sale.
  • Email/phishing scam: You receive email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking you to “update” or “verify” personal information. Similar scams involve receiving a tax refund from the IRS and you just need to verify your personal information.
  • Scareware scams: You receive a pop-up “virus alert” informing you that your computer has been infected. You are then directed to download an anti-virus program (at a fee) to remove the virus. What is actually occurring is that a scammer is hoping you will pay for a fake software program or provide personal and financial information needed to steal your identity or gain access to your accounts.

Tips to avoid scams / Identity Theft

  • Stay informed! Recognize that receiving an email, phone call or text message advising you won the lottery, failed to pay taxes, or need to update your account information is just another effort to gain access to your finances or personal information.
  • Do your homework!  Use well-established, trusted professionals or organizations when making a purchase, investment or providing personal information.
  • Sign up for email/text "transaction alerts" from your bank to keep track of your purchases.
  • Shred all financial documents, bank statements, sensitive mail, credit card solicitations, and documents that contain any type of personal information.
  • Report missing credit cards immediately.
  • Use strong passwords for all services and change them regularly. When selecting a password, use at least 8 characters, with a mixture of upper and lowercase and both letters and numbers.
  • Be aware of your surroundings; watch out for anyone attempting to watch you enter your PIN.
  • Keep current with anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer.
  • Use a credit card for online and mail order purchases. A credit card gives you better fraud protection than a debit card.
  • Consider signing up for an Identity Theft protection service.
  • Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s free scam alerts at www.ftc.gov/scams for the latest tips and advice about scams.
  • Check the FBI website for additional scams at https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes

Finally, if you believe you have possibly been the victim of a scam or identity theft, do not hesitate to contact the Security Division. As it pertains to scams, you do not actually become a victim until you provide personal information or sustain a monetary loss. We will assess the situation and if necessary, contact the Sheriff’s Department to open a criminal investigation.