D.I. Library kicks off series of consumer fraud prevention workshops with “Outsmarting Scammers”
BY: CHARLIE MORRISON
With an April 15 filing deadline with the IRS fast approaching, tax season is most certainly upon us. As we examine our epenses and double-check our checkbooks, law enforcement officers and financial advisors are warning we must also keep close tabs on something else – shams, scams and flimflams.
The Daniel Island Library kicked off a new three-part lecture series on consumer fraud prevention on March 7 titled “Outsmarting Scammers.” The 30 presentation was led by North Charleston Police Department detective-turned-financial advisor Jim Rowan, who focused his talk on informing meeting attendees on how to spot red flags consistent with current fraud practices.Rowan’s credentials in speaking about the topic of financial fraud in America are unquestioned. While serving on the North Charleston Police force, Rowan worked in the white collar crime division, investigating all types of financial fraud at the local, state, and federal level. Prior to leaving the department and joining Edward Jones a little over a year ago, Rowan was named North Charleston Police Officer of the Year by the Charleston Exchange Club. On top of that, Rowan is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
“I have been on the other side of this topic today,” began Rowan in his presentation at the library. “I’ve had occasions to investigate and charge people with committing a lot of the types of frauds that we’re going to talk about. If you look at fraud, and if you look at the theft that occurs because of fraud, you realize how monumental this problem is in our society and how catastrophic it can be for people in terms of their financial position.”
Rowan hammered home that point with a few statistics, backed by his own experience. Nine million Americans have their identity stolen every year, he stated, and that number is growing. On top of that, fraud and financial abuse schemes targeting the elderly generate almost $2.9 billion annually. That was a particularly sobering fact for Rowan, who stated that his own mother has been a victim of financial fraud at least four times in the last two years alone. Rowan outlined four of the most widely utilized schemes currently being employed by contemporary fraudsters – collection fraud, the “grandparent scam,” the “sweetheart scam,” and the “sweepstakes scam.”
Collection fraud insinuates a situation in which a victim is contacted by person of authority, who suggests they owe money or has outstanding debt that if not taken care of immediately will lead to a bigger problem for the victim. Typical calls are from fraudsters masking as representatives from the IRS, or one of your local utility providers. They often demand money be wired somewhere that day to prevent further issue.
“As I’m standing here talking out loud about these frauds they sound obvious, but in the moment that this fraudster has called you on the telephone, presented you with this problem, gotten your nerves up and got you upset telling you the police are coming to arrest you because you are delinquent, someone who doesn’t understand fraud, someone who’s never had anyone explain to them what is normal and what isn’t normal in this kind of situation might make the wrong choice,” said Rowan.
A second red flag would be if the person in any way threatens you with consequences should you not pay.
“Even if it’s just a mild threat where they say ‘well, you have to pay us today or the police are going to come arrest you’ or ‘you have to pay us in the next two hours or we’re going to shut your service off,’ that’s a threat to alter something for you, the comfort of your lifestyle or the service you receive,” said Rowan. “Legitimate businesses don’t do that. Not ever. Anytime anyone hears that, that should be a red flag.”
The “grandparents’ scam” involves an elderly family member supposedly getting a phone call from one of his or her young relatives indicating they’re in trouble, they need money, and they don’t want to tell their parents.“They’re putting people in the position where they have to make a choice and that the dire consequences for them are all real…if this person doesn’t choose to send money to help them with their problem. There’s always a time sensitivity to it where they have to act on something right now,” Rowan continued. “You could see how it’s very easy for an elderly person with a very large extended family to fall for something like this.”
To educate the room about the “sweetheart scam,” Rowan delved into personal experience, telling the hard-luck story of a former co-worker who’d been befriended online by a fraudster posing as an international businessman with exceedingly bad luck. The fraudster had developed a relationship with the victim and over a period of almost a year had convinced her to send dozens of payments amounting to tens of thousands of dollars by Western Union to him to help him deal with various bad breaks and financial hardships.
“It was such a big scam and it had gone on so long and built on itself so extensively that the fraudsters had actually sent our victim photographs and said ‘this is me,’ and my victims swore the she actually met this individual in person,” said Rowan. “We explained to her the premise behind this kind of fraud and what happened and how people are made to be victims of this.”
“It’s heartbreaking, but when you showed her the facts and the reality of what actually took place, she was dumbfounded and said ‘no he wouldn’t do that to me.’ These fraudsters are so convincing and so good at what they do they convince the victim that they’re real and they’re genuine.”
Finally, Rowan outlined the “lottery/sweepstakes scam” in which you receive a letter telling you that you won some lottery, but that to collect you need to pay an administrative fee up front.
“Stop right there and think to yourself ‘did I enter one or did I buy a lottery ticket?’ Because the number one rule of the lottery is you have to play to win,” said Rowan. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
If you think you could be a victim of fraud go to the Federal Trade Commission’s dedicated identity theft website at identytheft.gov, or of course contact your local law enforcement, said Rowan, who stated further that Edward Jones here on Daniel Island has a dedicated fraud team who would investigate on your behalf as well.
“If you come to us with anything that looks remotely like a red flag to you, we’re going to automatically contact our fraud team and filter it through them,” said Rowan.
For more information about the Daniel Island Library or the Berkeley County Library System visit berkeleylibrarysc.org.
Upcoming Daniel Island Library financial fraud classes:
April 17 at 6 p.m.
Attorney Michael J. Cone will guide participants through loan protection, credit cards, and ways to avoid identity theft.
Identity Theft and Personal Security
April 6 at 1 p.m.
Led by representatives from the South Carolina Federal Credit Union. During this class, attendees will discover tips on how to avoid identity theft, beef up your cybersecurity and keep your money safe.