Seminar targets financial crimes

Published 9:50 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is April 27-May 1, and the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and Suffolk Police Department are presenting a session on identity theft, mail fraud and credit scams to Suffolk residents in observance of the week.

The seminar will be held Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 100 East Constance Road, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The seminar is free and open to the public, and will feature refreshments and a drawing for door prizes.

“We felt that it was very appropriate for the time that we’re living in,” said Karen Williams, community outreach coordinator for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office. “Even though it’s open to the public, we’re gearing it more towards seniors, because so often they’re the victims of these types of crimes – but it’s not just for the seniors.”

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Suffolk Police Detective John Jones, who investigates incidents of identity theft and other fraud, said that type of crime has risen slightly in the past year.

“Times are bad,” he said. “Thefts have picked up.”

There are many different facets to identity theft and credit fraud. Criminals can go as low-tech as digging through trash to find personal information, or they could carry credit card scanners to obtain your card information when you pay with your card at a restaurant.

“What I recommend to people is, don’t let these people walk away with your card,” Jones said. “Try to be present when they swipe your card. You really have to be careful.”

If a thief (or family member) acquires your Social Security number, he could go so far as to obtain credit cards, cell phones and electricity accounts using your information, Jones said.

“Those are the big-ticket items that people use others’ Social Security numbers for around here.”

Jones stressed that residents should guard their information closely, never give out information over the phone, never throw out papers with personal information, and check their credit reports once a year for free at

For people who do get scammed by financial criminals, the results can be inconvenient, embarrassing and devastating, said Diane Bryant, the victim/witness director with the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“Coming to court can be devastating,” she said. “The inconvenience of having to get all of that straight … and trying to get that money recovered can be traumatic.”

Bryant said the topic is especially important in poor economic times, because it can be easier for people to fall prey to scams.

“Those individuals in our communities that are not about the business of honesty and integrity may take this opportunity to prey upon individuals in terms of scams,” she said, specifying people who may say they’re collecting money for other who have fallen on hard times when they’re really pocketing the money themselves.

“It’s important to know we chose this topic to provide information and education to the community, to let them know what’s out there,” she said.

The seminar will feature a panel of experts on financial crimes, including Marilyn A. Sallee, Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney; Detective John M. Jones of the Suffolk Police Department; George T. McLaughlin, Criminal Investigator, Office of the Attorney General; and Dustin C. Holland, Postal Inspector, Unites States Post Office.

For more information contact Karen H. Williams, Community Outreach Coordinator, Office of the Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney at 514-4379.