Las Vegans pack auditorium for scam-prevention session

Due to fire laws, they had to close the doors to the largest auditorium in Sun City Summerlin, which was already packed beyond capacity, leaving several dozen folks outside.

The reason was simple enough. Representatives from the Cyber Crimes Task Force — consisting of the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department — were there recently to discuss one of the fastest-growing industries in America.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for Nevada Dan Cowhig and FBI Special Agent Todd Tumbleson discussed financial fraud, which is being fed by a burgeoning rise in the numbers of cyber scams, particularly through the use of computers and telephones.

“We had to close the doors at 450 people,” said Karl Wiedemann, president of the Residents’ Forum and a member of the Sun City Board of Directors. “Desert Vista is licensed to hold only 440 people. There were another 30 or more who we couldn’t let in, but we kept the doors open so they could at least hear what was being said.” That didn’t include the many others who went home because there were no more empty seats. And untold numbers of residents went home because they were unable to find parking spaces.

“This is the largest group to ever attend any of our cyber presentations,” said Metro Detective Jefferson Grace, who added that he was overwhelmed by the outpouring.

He, Cowhig and Tumbleson spoke for more than two hours, explaining that many of the crimes are so sophisticated that law enforcement’s resources are being taxed to the limits.

“If anyone calls you, supposedly from the IRS, to tell you that you owe money and you better send it or else, it’s a scam,” said Grace, who identified various other criminal techniques being employed. He also urged particular caution in the use of debit cards.

“Never use a debit card and a PIN number at the gas pump,” Grace warned, as he emphasized how fraudulent credit and debit card skimmers have grown into a billion-dollar industry. “Cash is always the safest form of payment.”

Tumbleson cited national statistics to show that people older than 60 are the biggest targets of financial scammers. In 2016 there were 55,043 of these victims, totaling losses of nearly $340 million, he said. Among those ages 50-59, it cost 49,208 victims just over $298 million.

“Watch out for romance scams,” Tumbleson told the audience of seniors. “People who are lonely can become easy victims of this form of extortion. In the end, they’ll break your heart and your bank account.”

Tumbleson warned to be on the lookout for computer messages and phone calls from Third World countries, particularly from Nigeria. He also referred to the sale of many forms of lottery tickets, “and especially those from outside the country,” as scams.

“There are some special fraud warning signs,” Tumbleson said. “Watch out for any phone call that starts by saying, ‘Congratulations, you won …’ or ‘I’m calling about our cash giveaway,’ or the grandparent scams. Typically, someone who says he’s a grandson calls to say he’s in trouble and needs money. My advice is this: Just say, ‘Give me your phone number and I’ll call you right back.’”

Cowhig, who prosecutes financial crimes in the U.S. Attorney’s office, said “they’re making millions of dollars on those kinds of telephone scams, and they won’t stop. Senior communities like Sun City Summerlin are a good place for targets.

“The world is changing with all of the new technology, and we’re being forced to change,” Cowhig continued. “If we can’t stay up with it, that makes us vulnerable to it.”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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