By Roger Phelps

With a recession-fueled rise in the bilking of consumers, Assemblywoman Alyson Huber Wednesday hosted a panel of experts from state regulatory agencies who gave a scam-stopping seminar in Jackson. Around 50 people attended.

“Scammers are getting more savvy,” Huber told audience members.

The so-called “Nigeria Scam” originated about five years ago, in which a bogus Nigerian official boldly states in e-mails that he’s stealing some loose public money and wants to move it to your bank account with you as accomplice. Variations continue to evolve that are still working today on the genuinely greedy and inattentive of all ages, as noted by panelist Ric Murphy from the state Department of Corporations.

All of these can be lumped under the category “foreign-letter scam,” and just the exotic origin of mail from a stranger is a strong sign something’s off, Murphy said.

Although not all in the audience Wednesday were seniors, panelists agreed that criminals new to the vocation of scamming increasingly are attempting to prey on older citizens.

“(Seniors) come from a generation where a handshake was your word,” said panelist Maria Guzman-Kennedy from the Contractors State License Board. “Now, we’ve seen pastors, people of faith that you’re close to, try to take advantage of you.”

Murphy said authorities now refer to all crimes of that type as “affinity fraud,” perpetrated on people who share with a scammer a particular characteristic, such as age, neighborhood or religion.

“That’s how Bernie Madoff operated in the Jewish community,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that the No. 2 scam-target group after seniors is military members and their families.

Urging consumers to “create time and distance” from a purveyor before deciding to buy, Mike Lafferty from the state Department of Consumer Affairs told a story of an Internet site involved in a fraud category called “stimulus scams.”

“It will say there’s free money available, federal stimulus money, but there’s a clicker, 15 minutes, running down,” Lafferty said. “By the time you enter your information, there’s like three minutes left. The sense of urgency is terrible.”

A colorful confidence game Murphy warned of is “the jury-duty scam.” A phone caller announces he’s an officer of the court, that the potential victim has failed to report for jury duty and that an arrest warrant is out. When the resident denies receiving duty summons, the caller asks for confidential data – usually at least a Social Security number but sometimes even a credit-card number – for “verification” purposes.

A comparatively new scheme type is called the “free-meal scam,” Murphy said.

Residents receive notice of a free meal usually accompanied by offer of some free service, frequently medical service such as ear checkup, he said. Victims are duped, for example, into supplying a MediCal identification number, which easily can be sold by a scammer.

Other state agencies represented with scam stories and advice were the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Real Estate. Amador County agencies sending representatives were the Amador County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.

Reprinted for educational purposes

Source Ledger-Dispach