Rene Revens knows anyone can be affected by fraud. The former consumer affairs employee recently fell prey to a credit card scam herself.
Just two hours after she made a stop at a gas station, Revens’ husband received a call from their bank. Someone in Florida had charged $700 to their credit card.
“It was crazy. It happened so fast,” she said. “You just have to be vigilant to protect yourself.”
Last week, local experts from Nevada Consumer Affairs and other agencies convened at the fourth annual Consumer Fraud Prevention Fair to discuss ways to avoid fraud in Southern Nevada.
The common theme at Friday’s panel: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Cris Carmona, chief compliance investigator with Nevada Consumer Affairs and a panelist at the fair, said residents should be even more alert in the midst of tax return season.
There are a number of fraudulent document preparation services, according to Gail Anderson, deputy administrator for the Nevada secretary of state’s office.
“If you go to a tax preparer, including large national firms or small offices (that say) ‘tax preparation, divorce, immigration, we do it all!’ Those are the ones to be really, really be careful about,” she said.
Carmona said one of the most common fraud cases in Nevada involve people selling or promoting products online, such as a free vacation package.
Lucas Tucker, senior deputy attorney general with the Nevada attorney general’s office, said many scams don’t need face-to-face interactions or even a phone call. Whether it’s people pretending to be romantically interested through email to trick others into sending money, fake event tickets promoted via social media or scammers promising to sell currency for gaming platforms, Tucker said fraudulent schemes are prevalent online.
“Don’t send any money or offer any personal information (online),” he said. “Personal information is very valuable today. You always want to think of your personal information as another form of currency.”
Michael Gomez, a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department, said gas pumps are something else to be wary of. Criminals can tamper with the credit card scanners with skimmers to make clones of consumers’ credit cards.
“You’re not going to discover them because they’re internal,” Gomez said. “You can pull on the pump all day, more than likely you’re not making any difference.”
He suggested only using gas pumps with security stickers in place.
“If your location does not supply security stickers at the pump, I’d be very wary of using them,” Gomez said.
Jack Snyder, special investigations unit supervisor for the Nevada State Contractors Board, warned against solar scams, which he said are especially prevalent among the elderly.
“Fifty percent of our fraud time is spent on elder crime in the community,” he said. “If you hear ‘free,’ it’s not.”
But Carmona said scams can reach anyone, and she urged consumers not to give into pressure when someone is trying to make a sale.
“It’s your money. You can walk away,” she said.