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Fighting against fraud: North Dakota organizations seek to educate residents, combat scams

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Last week in Minot a man arrived at AARP’s “Get Smart on Scams” event with a letter saying he had won a foreign lottery.

“He asked us, ‘Is this real?’” AARP spokesman Lyle Halvorson said. The letter was a fake, part of a scam to trick lucky “winners” into paying processing fees to receive their new fortune.  

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 While the man avoided becoming a fraud victim, others presented with this or other scams aren’t so lucky.

“A lot of people are getting caught up in these,” Halvorson said. Last year, more than 1 million fraud-related complaints were filed with the Federal Trade Commission — about 2,200 of them coming from North Dakota.

The Minot stop was the first in a series of sessions AARP — partnering with the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau — has held around North Dakota to educate residents and keep them from becoming fraud victims.

A session will be held Thursday in Grand Forks from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn. The event is free but registration is required and can be completed over the phone at (877) 926-8300 or online at www.aarp.org/nd.

Evolving methods

The AARP events cover a variety of scam trends making rounds in the region.

Over the past few months, the most popular scam targeting area residents involves one-ring telephone calls or international calls showing up with local area codes. Both can result in victims racking up fraudulent phone charges.

Phone scams such as this seem to have increased across the country. They made up 13 percent of complaints of filed with the FTC in 2006. Fast forward to 2013, and that portion jumped to 40 percent.

Scammers adapt as technologies and their users’ preferences change, according to Dan Hendrickson, spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

“Scammers are quick to jump on board with new technology,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re very good at what they do.”

Over the years, scams have evolved from mailers such as fake sweepstakes letters to emails from imaginary Nigerian officials asking for help moving millions of dollars to notifications on social media networks.  These methods and others use similar ruses.

“It boils down to a prize being dangled in front of you,” Hendrickson said.

People falling for scams of all sorts resulted in fraudsters lining their pockets with about $1.6 billion last year, according to payment totals taken from complaints filed with the FTC.

Overall, 61 percent of fraud complaints indicated a payment had been given to scammers.

Common scams

While some scams use prizes as a lure, other appeal to the good nature of victims or rely on threats.

A common scam making the rounds is something Halvorson refers to the “grandparent scam.” He says fraudsters call the elderly pretending to be a grandchild in need of financial help.

The grandparent is asked to wire money — sometime $10,000 or more —to get their fake grandchild out of jail or similarly unpleasant circumstance.

“This one’s been going on for a long time, but people are still falling for it” Halvorson said.

Another popular scam is phishing. Phishing occurs when fraudsters poses as banks, government agencies or other businesses through emails or on the phone in order to coax someone to give out personal or financial information.

A recent scheme has fraudsters posing as the Internal Revenue Service. These fraudsters call and tell victims if they do not pay money owed to the IRS, they will be arrested, deported or lose their business or driver’s licenses.

Often, the callers have the last four digits of the recipient’s social security number, leading victims to believe the call is legitimate, according to Halvorson.

Avoiding fraud

To avoid being a fraud victim, Hendrickson said people should be cautious.

Phone calls supposedly from banks asking the recipient to reveal personal and financial information are scams.

“Your bank already has that information,” Hendrickson said. “They’re not going to call you and ask for it.”

Hanging up on a suspicious call and calling the bank directly is one way people can determine if a scammer is at work.

Not answering calls from unfamiliar or unknown phone numbers is another way to prevent fraud. Often these numbers can appear local but a process called spoofing allows scammers to disguise the true origin of their calls by having another number pop up on Caller ID.

If the request for personal or financial information comes over email, don’t reply or click on links included in it no matter how legitimate it may seem, Hendrickson said.

“The hook is there, you just have to find it,” he added.

If you go

What: “Get Smart on Scams” lunch and learn event

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Hilton Garden Inn, 4301 James Ray Drive, Grand Forks

Other: Event is free. Pre-registration is required. Register over the phone at 1-877-926-8300 or online at www.aarp.org/nd.

On the Web: Scam complaints can be filed with the Federal Trade Commission online at http://goo.gl/TPhAPY. More information about scams encountered in North Dakota can be found on the state attorney general’s website or at http://goo.gl/zGPmCS.

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Brandi Jewett
Brandi Jewett is an enterprise reporter for the Grand Forks Herald with beats focusing on northwest Minnesota, unmanned aircraft systems and East Grand Forks city government. Other positions she has held at the Herald include Grand Forks city government reporter, general assigment reporter and news intern. A native of Valley City, N.D., 24 years worth of winters haven't scared her out of the state yet. Follow her work at www.grandforksherald.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @brandijewett. Send tips and story ideas to bjewett@gfherald.com. 
(701) 780-1108
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