Watch out for red flags, warns crime prevention officer

No one is safe from fraud artists these days, though the elderly may be easier targets, according to crime prevention officer Gordon Sims.

“Frauds affect a wide range of the social-economic spectrum – men and women alike, young and elderly. The elderly are maybe more vulnerable and easily preyed upon,” he said.

In recognition that March is fraud awareness month, Sims is spreading the word of cases that are occurring in Greater Trail and how residents can avoid being taken advantage of.

Last year, 37 fraud cases were reported to Trail police, which is slightly higher than the 28 noted in 2009 but fewer than the 49 reports received in 2008.

A popular one that hones in on seniors is the grandparent scam.

“Fraudsters will call the potential victim and claim to be a grandchild or another close family member and will ask for money to help with a serious situation,” he said.

“Common themes have been that the grandchild has been in an accident or arrested and the money is needed for hospital bills or bail. The victim is told not to tell other family members as the ‘grandchild’ is embarrassed or doesn’t want to alarm anyone else in the family.”

A variation of this scam involves hijacked email accounts, where a fraudster sends an email claiming to be the sender who has been robbed while traveling abroad and needs money to get home or for living expenses.

Criminals can have a heyday with personal information – charging purchases to credit cards, establishing new banking accounts and not paying bills, changing a mailing address to keep an owner unaware of illegal activity, rent or apply for a mortgage to set up marijuana grow operations or access government social programs such as employment assistance and social assistance.

There are many ways scam artists can access personal information, whether it’s mail theft, intercepting garbage, stealing a wallet from a purse, accessing personal files on a computer or via ATM receipts, said Sims.

“The advice I have for protecting oneself is to use due diligence and to thoroughly check out the offer or service being offered before accepting and making any form of payment,” said Sims.

“Do not give out personal information including banking information. Call and verify that the business or company is legitimate or if any complaints have been made with the Better Business Bureau or the Anti Fraud Centre.

“If you have to forward any payment for a prize you have won, it is a fraud or scam.”

Anyone who does become a victim of identity fraud should notify his bank or credit card company immediately, said Sims.

“Notify your local police and contact the Anti Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. Conduct a credit check through Equifax at 1-800-465-7166 and Trans Union at 1-877-525-3823 and have a Fraud Alert placed on your record.”

Sims can be contacted for advice about avoiding fraud and will make presentations to community groups, businesses and associations on fraud or other prevention programs he handles.

He can be reached at 368-2185 or faxed at 364-1453.

For more information on preventing fraud, contact www.antifraudcentre.ca, www.safecanada.ca or www.fightidentitytheft.com