Won’t get fooled again

Words of advice on avoiding Internet thieves and scammers

Jeanne Simmons-McNeil encourages folks who have been scammed to contact the authorities.

Jeanne Simmons-McNeil encourages folks who have been scammed to contact the authorities.

Photo By vic cantu

Jeanne Simmons-McNeil has vital advice that can save seniors—or anyone, for that matter—from a whole world of hurt at the hands of scam artists and thieves.

“I do this because I love people, and without each other we can’t get by,” Simmons-McNeil, the secretary of the Trinity County Commission on Aging, said.

She spoke to members of the Chico Business & Professional Women on Saturday, Sept. 4, at Chico’s Cozy Diner on how people can avoid getting their money or identities stolen.

One of the most popular scams of late, she said, is the so-called “Jury Duty Scam,” in which unsuspecting victims are contacted by phone and told they’ve missed jury duty and that a warrant has been issued for their arrest. The caller then asks to verify vital identifying information. In such cases, Simmons-McNeil advises anyone to simply thank the caller, hang up and contact the local district attorney or the courts.

Many seniors never report incidents of scamming, Simmons-McNeil said, out of fear of public embarrassment or worse, a loss of financial decision-making powers to concerned family members.

“At least call and report it to the authorities like the district attorney, the police or Adult Protective Services,” she said. “Don’t let those crooks victimize others.”

She talked of another common scam, pointing out that all foreign lotteries are illegal in the United States. Offers of great winnings from supposed Canadian lotteries are common. One victim, Pravda McCroskey, said she was addicted to foreign lottery scams that promised a greater chance at winning if she bought more merchandise from their catalogs.

“The prices for the trinkets ranged up to $50, and I bought tons of them,” McCroskey said. “I was hooked on them for years, and it took my partner to help me stop.”

Simmons-McNeil recounted how scammers actually tried to victimize the Trinity County district attorney. A woman called and said she was his sister incarcerated in London and needed cash fast. The DA didn’t fall for it and verified that his sister was fine and living in California.

Simmons-McNeil cautioned that when donating magazines to a doctor’s office, tear off the address label on the cover. “This info can be used by fraudsters who try to get more information about you on the Internet,” she said.

Another common tactic is stealing mail to acquire vital records and information. She advises people to check their mail daily and to have a neighbor pick it up if gone for more than a day. When mailing something, put it in the mailbox as close to the mail pickup time as possible, she said. She also suggested using a paper shredder to destroy all unneeded paperwork that contains vital personal information.

Checking credit reports at least once a year is a good way to keep finances safe, she said, but she cautioned against signing up for free online credit reporting services. Doing so can leave a person vulnerable to identity or credit theft, she said. And never enroll in one if it is a company soliciting by phone. When signing up for any business that requires security questions, don’t use your mother’s maiden name. In this day of vast Internet knowledge a woman’s maiden name is easy to find.

She recounted the story of a couple who stole their infant son’s Social Security number to create false credit cards. The child didn’t discover the thousands of dollars in bills rung up until he was 22 years old.

Those who discover an obvious scam letter in the mail should not simply throw it out, she said, but instead help others avoid being ripped off by keeping the letter and envelope and reporting it to the post office.

She said a person can keep the chances of Internet fraud down when forwarding an email by erasing the name and email address of the person who sent it.

Those looking for love using Internet dating services should beware, Simmons-McNeil said. “Turning potential suitors into victims this way is easier because you don’t have face-to-face contact to see their expressions and body language,” she said.

She also advised looking out for charity scams after a major disaster has occurred. Scammers pretending to help the victims often tug on the public’s heartstrings by asking for money. Charities can be checked for validity at www.Snopes.com, she said. If they are legitimate, donate by mailing a check rather than giving out credit card information.

Simmons-McNeil learned all this information through her Trinity Commission on Aging, she said.

“The commission addresses all the needs of the aging, like food, money and health,” she said. “Butte County doesn’t have one, but I really think it should.”