Report Scams to New Fraud Hotline: (209) 588-1221

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins September 15, 2009 12:54

A team of law enforcement and financial experts has launched a long-planned scam hotline and database to help protect seniors from fraud.

Dave Clevenger, who leads the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office Community Service Unit (CSU), cites a sharp rise in scam attempts by phone, mail or in person. All have one thing in common: The offers are too good to be true. And it’s not just directed at the elderly.

“Some of our top business people have told us they had actually given out personal information and knew better, but they were caught up in their daily business and did it anyway,” says Clevenger, a retired state maintenance supervisor who leads the 60-member CSU.

The scams run the gamut:

  • You’ve won a new Mercedes and $5 million dollars – send a check for $2,500 to collect your prize
  • I’m your long-lost cousin in Texas, landed in jail, send $800 to bail me out
  • I saw in the classifieds that you’re selling a talking parrot …

That last one indicates how many would-be scammers are out there: It happened to Clevenger a few weeks before the hotline launch, when he ran a newspaper ad offering to sell DJ, his African gray, complete with 400-word vocabulary.

Clevenger got an enthusiastic response from a caller, supposedly hearing-impaired, who then sent a set of complicated written instructions. The buyer would send a check (bogus) for more than the asking price, and Dave would send back a partial refund (real money).

“It was just stupid,” says Clevenger, who later sold the bird to a Sacramento woman, “that he would think people would buy into that.”

But many do, resulting in significant losses that are typically never recovered.

“Sometimes it’s very hard to convince people that they’re not going to get this money, particularly in a tight economy,” Clevenger says.

The hotline and database were created by the county’s Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), which started working on project policies and procedures in 2006. FAST is a team of local experts – in elder law, banking, real estate, social services and law enforcement – joining forces to combat abuse and fraud.

The CSU, a member of FAST, was tapped to implement the hotline. The volunteer group was formed in 1992 to help with various Sheriff’s Office support tasks. Its 60 members, mostly retirees and many with law enforcement experience, have since logged more than 250,000 volunteer hours, on community patrol and in offices in East Sonora, Twain Harte, Tuolumne, Jamestown and Groveland.

Launched in July, the hotline is open from 8am–8pm Monday-Friday. Anyone who suspects they have been contacted by a scammer is asked to call. Callers remain anonymous. The volunteer will ask a series of questions, such as city of residence, ethnicity, income level and source, and more. The data collected will help track and identify recurring scams, to alert the public, Clevenger says.

If seniors have difficulty using the phone, or prefer personal contact, “We will be happy to talk to them in their home,” Clevenger says.

If a crime has already taken place, or physical abuse is suspected, the caller will be asked to call the Sheriff’s Office directly.

Anyone who receives a suspicious email should not open it, but instead should forward it to the CSU unit: scams@mlode.com. Volunteer Ron Shulver will track it back to its source. This may reduce the threat of computer viruses and hack attacks.

Clevenger notes that the more people who participate, the more effective the new anti-fraud effort will be.

“If you don’t report it,” he says, “your friends and neighbors are going to get scammed the same way – and we want it to stop.”

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins September 15, 2009 12:54
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1 Comment

  1. Bozo (kinda fits) July 10, 11:46

    I received the “I see you are selling a talking parrot” scam. In my case it was a 1930s era ice box. He sent me the bogus check, wanting me to forward part of it to a moving company in GA, who would pick it up and deliver it to him. My wife finally “hit me upside the head” and said “Its a scam!” REd lights were flashing, warnimg bells were going off and I still didn”t see it, though I was getting very uneasy. WE did not go through with it. The guy would only text me, never speak on the phone. He never told me where he lived, though the mailer came from Los Angeles. Saved by my wife.

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