Be on the #lookout for #fraud: Former officer #warns of #scams

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Mike Kutzke, a retired law enforcement officer, says that old adage really holds true.

If someone is claiming that something, such as a product or service, is a great deal and an answer to your hopes and dreams, more than likely it is a scam. If the words, “you must act now,” are used, it is more than likely a scam, said Kutzke.

“If someone tells you an offer is only good for an hour, tell that person you can get the money in six hours and see what happens,” he said. “You need to be careful of these things. Be careful of the things that are going to make you feel better fast.”

Fraud was the main topic at the expo, which drew more than 250 senior citizens to the education center at St. Mary’s Catholic Church this past month. Other topics centered on the impact of opioids, medication management, fall prevention and advance health care directives.

The expo is put on each year by the Douglas County TRIAD, consisting of law enforcement personnel, senior services and senior citizens.

While many fraud cases go unreported, Douglas County Senior Coordinator Mary Krueger hears of at least one reported case of fraud against seniors locally every week. Scammers claim to be from the IRS or the lottery, or run scams involving mail-order brides and dating websites, she said.

She said she has seen seniors in Douglas County lose more than $100,000. The money is typically never recovered, and the seniors are financially ruined. Some have to move in with family members or subsidized housing. Some have to sell their homes or get guardians.

“Unfortunately scammers befriend people who are lonely and need someone to talk to and then scam them by either convincing them to give them their credit cards, bank account numbers or Social Security numbers,” she said.

Stay on the alert

Kutzke said scams can be large or small, sophisticated or simple, and even though people don’t want to hear it, scams can come from members of your own family.

“The worst scams are those completed by a family member taking advantage of you,” he said.

He urged people to do their research, to call their friends or people they trust and ask them their opinion of whatever is being offered.

He provided advice when it comes to phone solicitors. He told seniors if they didn’t initiate or solicit the call, tell whoever is on the other end, “No thank you,” and then hang up. Should you answer the phone and the person on the other end says, “Can you hear me?” hang up and don’t say a word.

Call solicitors are like mosquitos, Kutzke said, in that they will never go away. People just need to know how to handle them and the best way to do that is to not engage in conversation and to simply hang up.

Here are other tips provided by Kutzke:

• Don’t put mail in the mailbox with the flag up. This is the easiest way for mail thieves to steal information.

• Shred all documents with personal information.

• Have a safe place to store personal information, including passwords, account numbers, etc.

• Be careful what you post on social media. Don’t post vacation pictures while you are still on vacation. This makes your house a target for thieves. While on vacation, ask a friend or neighbor to check on your house and make it look like someone is home.

• If you are asked to download something on your computer, don’t, unless it is from a trusted source. With computer issues, always take your computer to a local technician.

• If someone sends you something to open via email, such as a document, only open it if you know the person it is coming from.

• Close any unused accounts. These are targets for scammers.

• Always review banking statements. Keep a close eye on bank accounts and monitor them daily.

Most decisions people make are based on emotions and not logic, said Kutzke, adding that emotion is what makes fraud and scams possible. People need to think logically or else they can fall victim to scams.

Lastly, he strongly urged people who have been scammed to share their stories without fear of embarrassment. He, too, has fallen for a scam or two in his lifetime. But, by sharing stories and letting others know what has happened, it might save someone else from becoming a victim.

“Tell your friends. Share your story. Help others out,” he said.

Echo Press reporter Karen Tolkkinen contributed to this story.