BURTON — Identity Theft is becoming the perfect crime in the era of the smart phone, with a host of modern technology options it enables users to utilize or abuse.
A whole new epidemic of I.D. theft and financial scams have been sweeping Genesee County, and according to Detective Lieutenant Matthew Rule, of the Sheriff’s Department, “The speed of this is so fast, it’s the perfect crime. It’s even more lucrative than selling illegal drugs.”
“The iPhone is smarter than most computers,” according to Rule, and it is with this weapon in disguise, that criminals can access your personal information, and in some cases your identity and life savings.
“All it takes to steal your information is for me to walk up behind you at the bank or grocery store and click, I just got your card number. Or, boom, I just took a picture of your check,” said Rule, when presenting a fraud seminar to attendees at The Burton Senior Center on March 6.
Although, the elderly have always been targeted for their trusting manner and, “come from a time when people didn’t use this new technology,” said Senior Center Director Jean Johnson, the widespread usage of multiple apps and the swiftness of the crime by nature, makes anyone, of any age; susceptible to some form of fraud or prying.
Anyone, who thinks they cannot be fooled, better think twice. This is not yesterday’s net or mail fraud.
The new technology, as Rule said, can enable scammers to change the incoming calls on phones to look like the Genesee Sheriff Department, the IRS, or anyone they want to pose as; to enable your trust, get your account information, or make you think you owe money you do not. They can even do it to simply harass you.
People are falling for it, according to Rule, who added, “People think ‘how could this be a scam, I looked up the number. The real police are calling me’.”
He said the best thing to do with phone calls of an important nature is to hang up, dial the number yourself, and see if someone from the actual company called you for any reason.
Rule said the technology has gotten so advanced, the criminal doesn’t even have to be inside the building, or even in sight to get into your personal information. He cited examples, such as working on a hotel computer, or using public Wi-Fi at your local Starbucks.
They are so good, he said, that they can and sometimes do, park outside an eatery or business, log into the system, and then drive away; enabling them to get away with very little for the police to work with, such as video inside, being spotted, or even being caught right away. They drove right out, after stealing what probably only took them minutes to obtain, and costing an individual endless hours of pain, stress, and loss.
Audience member Carl Fenner of Burton said, “If these guys are so smart, you would think they would go out and get a real job.”
Sheriff Robert Pickell, said the same exact thing via phone a few days later.
Gary Westscott, a GM retiree, who has helped Rule’s department as a volunteer for 14 years joined him at the seminar to discuss the many scams out there. He also came to share a few stories of the lives that had been so affected by a crime so rampant with the ever-increasing online-centered world. Another issue he has seen lately, is of the many corrupt overseas criminals who steal great sums of money, by upping their tricks to a very believable level.
“People come in, they are crying. We are holding their hands, and there is nothing we can do,” said Westscott, of the many who fell for scams, failed to alert the proper authorities promptly, or were not checking their identity status with frequent credit report checks.
Westscott has seen people lose their entire savings, especially in cases where money is taken overseas. According to Rule, “once it is out of our country, it is out of our hands.” His department will help, but you must take action to alert them fast.
He noted, the FBI has bigger cases to tackle, and most certainly will not be putting one individual who fell for a scam, on the top of their to-do list, if on any list at all.
In these cases, many of the scams involve checks that criminals deliver by mail, said Rule, adding, “they are real checks with real routing numbers and account numbers.” He let everyone pass one around to see how far the technology has advanced, and how it is not so obvious anymore to determine junk mail from official mail.
“The reason it looks real, is that, it is real,” he said. By promising a portion of funds to a person, or verifying information to proceed with cashing the check, citizens have lost; in some cases their entire retirement funds or life savings.
“We are getting hit hard on these scams again,” Rule warned.
It is with in mind, that the Senior Center of Burton urges the members of the community to come in any Thursday and meet with Jo Luft, a liaison between the center and the police department.
The Senior Center of Burton is located at 3410 S. Grand Traverse, in Burton.
In cases of suspected fraud abuse, especially those of a severe nature, contact The Sheriff’s Consumer Protection & Fraud Division at 810-341-5923.
“This is the world we live in today,” said Rule.
The detective said to remember with crimes of this nature, “You’re your own best protector.”