During the holidays, senior citizens and veterans are the most vulnerable to fraud and identity theft scams. However, according to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, the problem exists all year, and new programs are aimed at preventing it from happening at all.
Alongside the Oro Valley Police Department, Horne spoke to a crowd of nearly 200 Oro Valley residents last week, many of which had been recent victims of fraud or exploitation. Horne recognized their efforts in proactively leading the fight against fraud.
“Your presence today is a deterrent to those who would seek to commit crime in your neighborhoods. The partnership between your police, volunteers, and elected officials is exactly why Oro Valley has a reputation as being one of the safest cities in Arizona,” said Horne.
The increasing number and variety of fraud cases reiterates the importance of citizens to use their best judgement when dealing with private information and transacting with businesses. Horne addressed a number of the most recent scams that threaten the privacy of Arizonans.
With the approaching holiday, Horne warned of fallacious websites that carry no inventory, and exist only to gain the consumer’s personal information. He suggested using only websites that incorporate “https” and a padlock image in the browser bar.
Additionally, Horne mentioned the importance of protecting passwords, social security numbers, personal information, and recommended closely monitoring credit information and banking records for suspicious activity.
“It’s our job to stay current with these trends and share the important information with our citizens so they are not victimized by these unscrupulous criminals,” said Lieutenant John Teachout, spokesman for the Oro Valley Police Department.
Horne’s office has already helped prevent several fraudulent business practices in the state, including auto shops and air conditioning companies that have charged consumers for products that were not in need of repair. Horne has taken action against such businesses by initiating lawsuits to fine them, or put them out of business completely.
“Consumer protection is also business protection because it helps businesses that are ethical and don’t want to have to compete with unethical ones,” said Horne. “It lets the ones who are potentially unethical know that the next person through the door might be from the Attorney General’s Office.”
As the only Attorney General’s Office in the country to receive a Department of Justice grant to prevent identity theft, Horne and his team have created new programs that will serve to protect consumers and make crimes easier to report.
“We will be working with law enforcement, state and local government, and prime ministry to impact the victims of identity theft in our state,” said Horne.
TASA, or the Taskforce Against Senior Abuse, is a phone line that has been made to protect seniors against a wide range of abuse including, but not limited to, fraud. Seniors who are being abused financially, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, are encouraged to call the hotline at 602-542-2124. The line has already received 1,100 calls since its recent implementation.
The second program, is a veterans outreach taskforce program that works in conjunction with the National Veterans Foundation to smoothly transition veterans returning home from overseas. Noting that 14% of returning veterans will become victims of identity theft, the taskforce will help protect these soldiers, while addressing issues like housing and benefits.
“We are working to reduce that number as a specific goal of our identity theft grant and ongoing commitment to help our military men and women,” said Horne.
Horne took a moment to recognize the Oro Valley Police Department for its role in preventing consumer abuse, and handed out certificates to Police Chief Daniel Sharp, Sergeant Amy Graham, and Lieutenant Kara Riley.
“The Oro Valley Police Department has taken a proactive approach to educating our citizens and preventing fraud through programs such as Neighborhood Watch, tips in community publications, Adopt-A-Business meetings, and our Shred-A-Thon events that destroy unwanted personal documents received from community members,” said Teachout.
Following police recognition, the public was encouraged to share their experiences as victims of fraud. The topics of discussion included undesired telephone solicitations, unlicensed workers offering housework, and technological flaws which made financial information easily accessible to scammers.
Jim Vieregg, former Arizona Assistant Attorney General, was one of the audience members to speak during this time.
“I want to take the time to thank your office for investigating the identity theft of my wife’s brother. The response was immediate and highly professional,” he said.
While the cases themselves differed, the consensus of those who spoke shared a similar view: the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and police have dealt with issues of fraud in an efficient and effective manner.