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Fraud−busters: beware of scam artists

“If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”

That was advice offered by Jeff Ferguson, bureau chief of the rackets division in the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, to members of the Marine Park Civic Association (MPCA), gathered at Public School 207, 4011 Fillmore Avenue, for their April meeting.

Ferguson said that perpetrators of frauds count on the vulnerability of individuals to be successful. While, he noted, it’s often said that there’s a sucker born every minute, victims of scams, “Are not just suckers. They’re all vulnerable −− the poor, the unsophisticated, the desperate. We all fall into that category at one point or another.”

The scammers are also likely to be people you tend to trust, Ferguson noted. When the elderly become victims of fraud, it’s often because they have been preyed upon by family members, he said. Similarly, people with immigration problems are most likely to be victimized by someone who also hails from their homeland, Ferguson told the group.

“Haitians will be victimized by fellow Haitians,” Ferguson noted, “Jamaicans by fellow Jamaicans.”

If they prey on the unsophisticated, crooks themselves have “become very sophisticated,” Ferguson advised.

“They’re very good at what they do,” he told his listeners, and they are adept at changing their pitch to take into account current events. For instance, said Ferguson, these days, scammers are likely to contact those in foreclosure and tell them that they can help them get federal stimulus money or bailout money.

“It’s up to you to be very careful,” Ferguson stressed. “The programs being instituted by the federal government are just now coming into place, and are available through traditional lenders. This is not to say all mortgage brokers are dishonest, but you have to be careful.”

ID theft is also a major area in which honest people are being defrauded, Ferguson said. Part of the problem is that unscrupulous clerks or waiters can easily use a miniature skimmer to copy the information on a person’s credit card, when they are given it for payment at a store or restaurant. The metallic strip they scan, Ferguson said, contains, “Everything they need to steal your ID.”

How do you protect against such activity? Beyond keeping an eye on your credit card, which can be difficult, the best defense, said Ferguson, is to go over credit card and debit card charges carefully, and get the free credit reports you are entitled to each year from Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

In addition, he recommended not leaving mail in your mailbox, which can be accessed by unscrupulous passersby, and not giving out your Social Security number except in very limited circumstances.

If someone calls you, watch out,” Ferguson advised. “When the Internet reaches out to you and looks for your Social Security number, be very careful.”

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