CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- All Americans, especially senior citizens, should become increasingly aware of schemes that entice them to give up anywhere from $10 to tens of thousands of dollars of their money and life savings.Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, gave a keynote speech on Wednesday at "Operation Scam Jam" in Charleston, an event sponsored by the AARP Foundation and West Virginia Smart Money Week."Protecting older West Virginians is an absolute priority of my office," Goodwin said. "Every single day, my office gets calls from seniors who have been targeted for identity theft."Angela Vance, associate state director for the West Virginia AARP chapter, said, "I will be happy if you get nothing out of today except to think before you proceed with anything. Take a pause and think."Goodwin mentioned several cases his office has prosecuted. He talked of caregivers taking patients' credit card numbers, and of people using 'false power of attorney' to drain the bank accounts of the elderly.Today, if you steal someone's identity information, Goodwin said, you expose yourself to a "mandatory two years in jail," in addition to any other sentence imposed for the crime.Goodwin mentioned a third case where "an elderly gentleman heard from a lawyer from Malaysia" who sent e-mails asking him for help in transferring funds to the United States. In this case, the victim ended up sending $120,000 of his own money to help that "lawyer.""That was absolutely heartbreaking. This kind of case thoroughly troubles me. There is very little we can do," Goodwin said. "In many foreign countries, the law enforcement officials are almost as corrupt as the scammers."Goodwin offered advice to his audience on Wednesday, including:
"Don't give out any personal information on the phone, on the Internet or through the mail." "Never carry your birth certificate, your passport or your Social Security card, unless you really need them."Scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated."Scammers will search your background. They may even pose as family members," Goodwin said.
Today, some scammers are creating false charitable groups that claim to raise money to help victims of tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy and the Boston bombings.Goodwin ended his talk by stating, "We need to work with communities and organization like the AARP."Complaints can be filed with the U.S. Attorney's office by calling 304-345-2200 or by visiting the website: www.justice.gov/usao/wvs.During the event's morning session, Joyce Sellers, a vice president of Wesbanco, urged people, "Never write down your PIN number for your debit card. Never give it on phone calls. And remember, people may be watching you when you use your card to get cash."Sellers urged people to turn their computers off when they are not being used. "Computers that are on 24/7 are dreams for someone sitting somewhere trying to hack people's computers."Sellers also had advice for people who make purchases over the Internet.Customers typically go to 'http' web pages. But before people enter any credit card numbers or data to pay for anything, they should make sure the site begins with "https," which indicates it is a secure web page.Mary Charles, a security official with City National Bank, pointed out, "A lot of times, stealing comes from your own family."Charles also urged online purchasers to check out the names and histories of companies from which they are making purchases. Charles said information available through Google or other search engines helps customers identify fraudulent operations.West Virginia's AARP chapter can be reached by calling Tom Hunter at 304-340-4605 or visiting the website: www.aarp.org/wv.Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.