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Scam Jam 2023 Panel: How to Protect Yourself from Fraud

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Financial fraud, identity theft, romance scams, check washing, tech support, and social media. These were some of the topics addressed recently by a panel of professionals at the 6th Annual Scam Jam, a joint effort by AARP Virginia and Fairfax County Government’s Silver Shield Task Force.

Moderated by Paul Greenwood, the former deputy district attorney for San Diego, the panel consisted of five experts from different branches of government, along with fraud victim Kate Kleinert, who shared her experience with romance scam in an earlier session.

Jamie Daly is a special agent for the FBI who works mainly with financial crimes. A certified fraud examiner, she first encountered FBI financial crime agents when she was working as a young bank teller in a bank that was robbed. As a teller, she was able to detect several instances of fraud, sparking her interest in joining the FBI.

Kyle Woodward is a detective with the Fairfax County police who also works with financial crimes, including identity theft, credit card and investment fraud, and romance scams. Like Daly, Woodward is a certified fraud examiner. He noted that police have seen a spike in identity theft and COVID fraud since 2020.

Eriana Hill works with adult protective services in Fairfax County, investigating cases of neglect, exploitation, and abuse of adults 60-plus or with mental disabilities.

A postal inspector with the U. S. Postal Inspection Service, Ray Campbell explained that his role is to serve as the law enforcement arm of the USPS. Their job is to protect the mail as well as postal customers, and they work with all types of fraud, not just mail fraud.

Greenwood asked Kleinert if she had considered contacting adult protective services during her ordeal, and she replied that she thought they only worked with caretaker abuse and wouldn’t help in her situation.

When asked if she reported her situation to the FBI, Kleinert said she did, and spoke to a very helpful individual. But she made her call early in the morning of January 6, 2021, the date of the U.S. Capitol breach. “They got a little busy,” said Kleinert, acknowledging her situation was not nearly as important.

In the tech support scam, the users receive a popup window on their computers, usually advising them to call Microsoft tech support at a phone number provided. Campbell said the best defense is to unplug the computer, because if power is connected, the scammers may be able to gain access. The number provided is never Microsoft and users should never call it. If concerned about the status of the computer, he recommends taking it to a reputable tech support company.

Campbell also advised against using the blue street mailboxes for any kind of financial mailing, especially if personal checks are involved. He recommends taking such items to the mail slot inside a post office. Mail carriers are frequently robbed, said Campbell, not for their wallets or personal items but for keys to the mailboxes.

Woodward said checks are often stolen from personal mailboxes or the USPS blue boxes, and criminals use special chemicals to wipe out the ink on the check. The payee and dollar amounts can then be altered. Using gel pens is more effective than ballpoint pens, he said, because gel ink penetrates the paper. Ballpoint ink sits on top of the paper, making it easier to wash.

Campbell added that the use of e-checks or bill pay directly from bank accounts may be safer than mailing checks. He also suggested checking bank accounts regularly for unusual transactions and reporting them immediately to the bank.

Celebrity impersonations are another type of fraud. Daly said fake social media accounts may appear to be a celebrity with an investment opportunity. To complicate matters, there are some celebrities, such as news anchors, who do legitimately promote investments. She advised caution, including conducting additional research on the celebrity and his or her project.

Regarding social media, Daly said “less is more.” Social media is increasingly a tool used by criminals to learn about their victims. Hill said predators use social media to groom their victims by learning about their activities, hobbies, and family. She advised caution in accepting friend requests.

Hill also advised against accepting friend requests from someone who is already a friend on Facebook, because that’s another way for predators to snare victims, by stealing names and profile photos to create fake accounts. If you see a duplicate request, report it both to Facebook and the friend involved.

Woodward advised against labeling Facebook contacts as family because criminals can use those connections to target family members, especially the elderly. Campbell recommends limiting posts to friends only, and all panelists advised against posting vacation pictures until after the vacation. Criminals can use that information to know you are out of town.

Greenwood noted that during his career, he encountered elder silence, with many victims afraid to speak out. Hill said that her agency usually is alerted by a neighbor, family member, or even a bank who noticed unusual activity. Agents arrive at the home unannounced, where they try to evaluate the situation and gain the person’s trust. Often this contact is all that’s needed to get the person to talk, but she acknowledged that some just don’t want to believe they are victims.

Many scams originate overseas, and Woodward noted that it’s difficult to track down masterminds if they are outside of the United States. But financial crime is spreading across the globe, and officials in many countries are often cooperative, as they don’t want these crimes to reflect badly upon their relationship with the U.S. As a local law enforcement officer, he will take an investigation as far as he can before reaching out to a federal agency such as the FBI or Homeland Security.

Daly encouraged the public to report all fraud, no matter what the dollar amount. While her agency can only investigate large dollar amounts, if they see a pattern in a database, they might be able to launch a broader investigation. The Internet Crime Complaint Center ( is a good place for the public to report incidents because its database is available to all levels of law enforcement.

One scam that often preys on older adults is the sweepstakes fraud, often masquerading as the popular legitimate sweepstakes Publisher’s Clearing House. The recipient receives a mailing that will say something like, “You’ve won a million dollars!” Publisher’s Clearing House only notifies recipients in person, not by mail.

If the person responds, said Campbell, they get placed on additional lists for similar mailings. They next are told they must pay all taxes and fees up front. Most people run out of money before they realize they’ve been scammed, while meanwhile they continue to receive mailings and phone calls from the scammers.

All panelists agreed that the most important thing is to raise awareness of potential scams. Look out for red flags and talk to friends and family.

“Fraud is all around us,” said Campbell. “Be skeptical and careful about who you trust.”

A recording of the 2023 Scam Jam is available at

For more information about fraud and how to find help, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

Read related Scam Jam 2023 articles:
Paul Greenwood's Top Ten Tips
Kate's Story

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