Middlesex DA talks on how to avoid being fraud victim

By Susan L. Wagner
Daily News Staff
December 08. 2015 5:59PM

WESTON — Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan and Weston’s new Police Chief Michael Goulding paired up recently to educate an overflow crowd at the Weston Council on Aging about protection from the proliferating number of scam artists eager to part victims from their money and identities.

“People are most fearful about scams perpetrated by strangers,” Ryan said, “but by far the larger number stem from individuals the victim knows – family members, people who work in the house, contractors.”

Also, residents of affluent communities like Weston believe that scams aren’t likely to take place in their town.

“But think about it,” Ryan urged. “Even crooks want to be good at what they do. And if you wanted money, where would you go? Believe me, they’re not calling people who don’t have money.”

Although many types of scams, such as the grandparent scam, the Nigerian widow scam, or the lottery scam, are well known by now, she said, people keep falling for them.

There are also less familiar ones – the jury duty scam, the chimney scam, the computer-crash scam.

According to Ryan, the IRS scam, in particular, is making a comeback.

“Remember the IRS won’t talk to you on the phone – you know that if you’ve ever tried to settle a dispute with them,” she said. “And, even if they look or sound very official, no reputable agency will ask you for your personal information on the phone.

“Calling back is no solution. Even if a person answers the phone and says ‘IRS,’ that’s not proof it’s the IRS. Same for banks, securities companies, etc.”

As for the lottery scam, “if you haven’t entered a lottery,” Ryan noted, “you can’t win one.”

Scams most often happen in the privacy of the victim’s home. Sometimes, the victim is embarrassed and doesn’t tell anyone, or they keep going along with the perpetrators’ demands in the hopes of recovering what has already been sent.

Once the scam artist has the money, it’s almost impossible to prosecute the crime.

“Most of them are out of the country,” Ryan said. “In my decades of experience, I’ve only had one case that I’ve been able to prosecute successfully.”

When it comes to outright theft, Ryan said, the main way of losing your cash is when you leave a purse in a cart at a store. Another common occurrence is in the parking lot when the victim is busy and distracted.

“Don’t leave your purse unattended. And, when parking your car or getting ready to go, make a plan,” Ryan recommended. “Park in a lighted spot. When you’re leaving, have your keys out. Take your time. Use common sense.”

Ryan also cautioned against talking too freely to people in waiting rooms in hospitals or doctors’ offices.

“All kinds of conversations go on in these places. I’ve even heard people shout out their Social Security number to someone at the reception desk,” Ryan said. “If someone is listening, they can get a sense of socioeconomic status and, beyond that, specifics related to a person’s family, place of residence, and job. I’m persuaded that often criminals don’t have to look very hard for such information. It’s simply given to them.”

Another pet peeve is a joint bank account, not with a spouse, but with another family member. “The relative, she said, can clean out the bank account and there’s nothing the victim can do,” Ryan warned. “They haven’t done anything illegal. The money is in joint name, and you can’t steal your own money. In one recent month in Middlesex County, $16 million was lost this way.”

When suspicious people call, just hang up, Ryan said. “Just put the phone down. You cannot engage. You cannot even start the conversation.” Opening your door to someone you don’t know is equally risky.

Goulding urged people to trust their instincts and to call the police if they think anything is amiss.

“We’d rather come to your house and make sure you’re OK before something happens than afterwards,” he said. “If something doesn’t feel right – a phone call, an email, someone ringing your front bell – don’t feel bad about calling us.

“Sometimes it all seems so official, but, as the DA said, they want to be good at what they do. They are clever, and they are successful, and the victims just pile up.”

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