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Preventing scams takes vigilance, common sense from residents

Owning a timeshare could be great fun for families as a means for vacation at a favorite location. It also can be a means for criminals to scam you out of a lot of money.

Timeshare fraud is nothing new, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Michael Hallock who spoke to a group of about 75 people Wednesday during a Fraud and Identity Theft Seminar presented by BancorpSouth at the OxfordLafayette Chamber of Commerce.

Hallock was joined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Roberts who spoke on identify theft later in the seminar.

“Often the scam starts with a phone call, telling you that someone wants to buy your timeshare for a lot more money than it’s probably worth,” Hallock said.

The scammer will send official looking documents. They’ll tell you anything they want to know. They’ve researched you and know what hooks to use on their line to pull you in.

“They’ll say anything,” he said. “A con artist will take your money any way they can. If you own a timeshare, they know it. They have the lists. Your information is not protected.”

The fraud is they ask you for court filing fees, closing costs, all to be paid up front. But there is no closing. There is no buyer.

“They’ll string you along 60 or 90 days, getting as much from you as they can,” Hallock said.

Hallock also presented other “popular” fraud schemes including the phone calls and emails saying a grandson or relative is in jail and needs bond money.

“Chances are, if you do have a relative in South Africa and they’re in jail, they aren’t calling you to get bond money,” Hallock said. “I don’t want to scare anyone. I want you to be aware of what’s occurring.”

The Publisher’s Clearing House scam is another one that targets the older population who are familiar with the real Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

“They’ll tell you you’ve won $10 million and that you need to pay the taxes,” Hallock warned. “They’ll generally ask you to use Western Union or give them a debit card number.”

Hallock suggested getting rid of home landlines as those telephone numbers are easier to get by scammers and No Call Lists don’t keep them away.

“A criminal isn’t going to care about a list of numbers they aren’t suppose to call,” he said.

Roberts has been talking to groups for several years about identify theft as someone from the prosecuting side. Wednesday, he spoke as a possible victim.

All of his personal information was compromised earlier this year during a large security breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The breach targeted the security clearance system that contained sensitive information from about 21.5 million people.

“I feel like that homeowner who knows some criminal has the key to the locks on my house, but I can’t change the locks,”

Roberts said. “At some point, someone can steal my identity and I have no control over that.”

However, Roberts said there are steps to take to help prevent identify theft and then reclaim your identity, should it be stolen.

“Call the card companies where you know fraud occurred immediately,” he said. “Place a fraud alert on your credit report and get copies of your reports. Report the identify theft to the Federal Trade Commission and file a report with the local police department.”

Most companies will refund money or credit if the reports are made timely, he said.

If fraud has occurred you have rights, Roberts said. Those rights include having the right to create an identity theft report; placing a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report; placing a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report; getting free copies of your credit report; getting fraudulent information removed or blocked from the report; disputing fraudulent claims; stopping creditors and debt collectors from reporting fraudulent accounts and stopping them from contacting you.

“Having your identify stolen is a pretty devastating thing,” Roberts said. “But knowing your rights and steps to take to claim your identify back will help you get through it.”