Scammers return to scene of crime

Victims of fraud, identity theft likely to be targeted again

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

 

It was bad enough when Bobby Worden was scammed five years ago by a telemarketer who offered credit card processing machines for his Clark County businesses.

That transaction lost him nearly $500, but it also tagged him as an easy mark. Ever since, his phone has been ringing and mail has been pouring in with offers that seem too good to be true — and usually are.

And he’s far from alone. According to Javelin Research, about 8.1 million American adults annually are victims of identity theft scams, which can include dishonest credit card charges and other theft of financial data. And according to http://scambusters.org, a website aimed at saving people from identity theft and other crimes, if you’re scammed once, you’re more likely to be targeted again.

That’s what Worden believes happened to him.

Though he has since retired, when he got the call five years ago, he was still involved in running several local businesses. So an offer of credit card processing machines for $494 seemed reasonable, and he gave out his own credit card number over the phone to place the order, he said.

The devices never arrived, but the charge to his credit card did. Ever since, Worden has been getting calls and mail solicitations that seem compelling — until he looks closer. Repeatedly, he’s called back to find disconnected lines, and recently his daughter looked one offer up online and reported back that it was a scam. Some callers seem to know personal information, making it hard to know who is legitimate and who is not, he said.

Technology has made it harder to identify potential scammers, who can now disguise the number they are calling from on caller ID. A handful of Clark Public Utilities customers, for example, recently reported predawn phone calls that appeared to come from the utility’s customer service phone number — but that were not actually dialed by the utility.

“Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing consumer scams in America,” according to Sarah Lane, who moderates the All Consuming Blog for the Washington Attorney General’s office.

But there are precautions that people can take to avoid becoming targets, as well as steps to protect themselves if they’re already getting calls and letters.

Here are some tips from the state Attorney General’s office:

• If you get a call or email about an existing bank or credit account, don’t give out information or click links. Instead, call the company’s listed phone number to make sure the inquiry was legitimate.

• If you were targeted by scammers, report the crime to the police or sheriff’s office.

• Place a fraud alert and/or security freeze on your credit reports.

• Report the crime to your bank, creditors and credit reporting agencies.

• Ask businesses to provide information about transactions made in your name.

• Contact the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline, 877-IDTHEFT, and the consumer protection division of the AG’s office at 800-551-4636.

Worden said he hopes that his frustrating experiences will serve as a lesson to other local people, and help them avoid becoming targets.

“I thought I was pretty sharp,” Worden said. “But some of these seem pretty legitimate. People need to know to say, ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’”