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U.S. Postal Service seminar offers scam prevention tips

Internet and mail fraud are on the rise, and the U.S. PostalService is reaching out to consumers to help fight it.

Law enforcement officers and banking officials attended aNational Consumer Protection Week seminar Wednesday in the StateRoom to learn how to counter the threat and to help victims reclaimlost monies.

The “Fighting Fraud: It’s a Family Matter” seminar was designedto provide both officials and the public with information to fightagainst the increasing crimes of identity theft, mail fraud, freeprize schemes, foreign lotteries, investment schemes, Internetfraud, work at home fraud and pyramid marketing.

“It’s information the public needs to be aware of,” said SandraWallace of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department. “They’regrowing crimes. We see them every day.”

Jack Rutland, security officer for State Bank and Trust, saidthe bank and Postal Service recently dealt with more than $30,000in counterfeit post office money orders.

“If there’s any doubt we have a major problem in our community,let me assure you that when the FBI is involved … we do have amajor crisis going on,” he said.

In this particular instance, Rutland said, the counterfeits werenoticed early enough that no damage was done.

That is not the case many times, said Serrina Waters,Brookhaven’s West Station manager. Technology has become soadvanced that it is hard for non-experts to catch the minordifferences between real money orders and the counterfeits.

Waters outlined many of the common scams used by con artists -either online, by telephone and through the mail.

“Anyone can become a victim,” she said. “It’s not a seniorcitizen issue or a dumb person issue. Intelligent people, and evenchildren, are just as much at risk.”

Seniors are, however, most at risk, Waters said, because thethieves know they have savings, tend to be polite and trusting andare less likely to report fraud because they fear others will feelthey are no longer capable of taking care of themselves.

More than 90 percent of these schemes are developed overseas,where American law enforcement efforts to curb their activities arerestricted and often thwarted by corrupt foreign governments, shesaid.

Waters cited one instance where FBI agents operated an Internetfraud sting operation in Nigeria. The agents were recalled when itwas discovered that the government was selling the confiscatedcomputers back to the thieves. This was verified when the sameserial numbers began to be recorded at numerous busts.

With law enforcement efforts blocked at the source, Waters said,public education becomes the key element to prevent victims fromfalling into the scams.

“The biggest help is through education – the education of ourlaw enforcement officers and the public,” Waters said.

Wallace agreed that educating the public was important. Onlylast week, she said, a Lawrence County resident brought in apackage of counterfeit money orders they had received in themail.

In the scam, the con artist claims he has received the moneyorders through legitimate business but cannot cash them in hiscountry. The victim can keep a percentage of the amount if theycash them for him.

“If you cash that, and keep part of it, that’s moneylaundering,” Waters said.

Wallace said she plans to organize similar seminars in LawrenceCounty, possibly at the Neighborhood Watch and TRIAD meetings.

The U.S. Inspection Service has a free consumer protection DVDavailable that outlines the many types of scams and how to preventidentity theft. The DVD can be obtained by calling1-800-525-6285.