Klobuchar staff presents ‘Fraud Prevention Office Tour’“There was a time when if someone knocked on your door with a gas can in their hand, you probably gave them gas and maybe invited them in to dinner as well. It’s not that time anymore.”
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Lucas warns that “the times they are a’changin’.”
“There was a time when if someone knocked on your door with a gas can in their hand, you probably gave them gas and maybe invited them in to dinner as well. It’s not that time anymore.”
Lucas was a presenter during a public meeting held at the Cloquet Senior Center on Tuesday to inform residents about protecting themselves from fraud and financial scams.
The meeting, dubbed the “Fraud Prevention Office Tour,” was part of a statewide series of visits sponsored by the office of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Though Klobuchar was not able to appear in person on Tuesday, she did send along a videotaped message stressing the importance of educating and empowering Minnesota residents to take control over their own financial security.
“Criminals today are developing new and more sophisticated methods,” said Klobuchar, stating that one in five Minnesotans will likely be the target of a scam or financial fraud. “The crooks will always follow the money.”
Klobuchar pointed out that one of the fastest-growing forms of fraud is tax identification theft. She gave as an example a 66-year-old Circle Pines, Minn., man who filed his tax return — only to discover that someone else had already filed a return under his name. Though Klobuchar’s office went to work to help the man untangle the mess and get his rightful return, she said a growing number of citizens, as well as the government, are being defrauded of millions of dollars’ worth of tax money every year. With that in mind, Klobuchar is co-sponsoring a bi-partisan bill in Congress to give the government better tools to uncover and prosecute perpetrators of tax identification fraud.
Klobuchar had words of advice to all Minnesota residents about protecting themselves from any type of fraud — monitor your financial accounts and your credit reports for errors. She told of one person she heard from who had a bankruptcy that mistakenly went on their credit reported that resulted in foreclosure proceedings against them.
Klobuchar also touched on another form of financial abuse — abuses in guardianships. She stated seniors and other vulnerable adults are targets of such abuse all over the country, resulting in staggering financial losses at the hands of their abusers — often trusted caretakers they believe to be safe. Klobuchar said at this time, background checks on caregivers don’t go far enough, and she said that was another initiative she hopes to pursue.
Lucas went on to tell those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting that the sheriff’s department and other local law agencies are seeing an increase in complaints from folks who have received misleading or fraudulent calls, emails or communications. Lucas urged people to always run such questionable contacts by someone else and never give out personal information out over the phone or on the Internet.
“Our population is getting older, and that provides scammers with a bigger target,” said Lucas.
Marjory Bottila of the Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging urged seniors to check their quarterly Medicare summary notices for accuracy and to see if anything looks amiss. She said so many agencies have people’s social security information now that it can sometimes leave innocent people vulnerable. While the majority of those agencies are dependable, she said all it would take would be one unscrupulous person willing to sell that information to someone else, who might then file illegal claims against your Medicare account for things such as medical equipment you didn’t purchase.
“Sometimes mistakes aren’t fraudulent but simply due to human error,” she acknowledged, “but it is still necessary for you to know about and correct them.”
Bottila also warned to be cautious about door-to-door soliciting by folks offering to shovel or shingle your roof or other home services. She suggested to always request referrals and/or check with the Better Business Bureau before shelling out any money.
Gary Johnson of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota agreed that home repair scams are among the worst, along with the “grandparent scam” where a caller professes to be a relative who is in trouble and wants the man or woman receiving the call to wire them money to help get out of it.
He also warned against giving out any sort of personal information over the phone, adding that residents should beware of anyone claiming to be from their financial institution or credit card company wanting to verify your account information.
“That should be an automatic red flag, because banks and credit card companies never do that over the phone,” he said. “Remember, you have the power to simply hang up the phone.”
Sam Clark, state director for Senator Klobuchar’s office, said there has been a 650 percent spike in identity theft since 2008, adding that frauds and scams are issues that cut across age and social classes. He said since seniors currently control about 70 percent of the wealth in the country, they are especially targeted.
“You don’t have to feel alone in dealing with these problems,” he concluded. “Don’t feel embarrassed [if you’ve fallen victim to a scam or fraud]. If you fail to speak up and report it, that empowers scammers to take advantage of someone else.”