At ‘Scam Jam,' Consumers Warned About Fraud

Every two seconds, someone's identity is stolen.

That was the warning Tuesday at a fraud prevention summit called the "Scam Jam" in the Upper Valley region of Vermont, where advocates urged consumers from Vermont and New Hampshire to guard their info and monitor their accounts, especially after the latest big data hack.

"Whoever's doing the PR for Equifax should be fired, in my opinion," said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, who spoke at the conference hosted by the AARP.

Donovan was referencing the problems at the credit bureau Equifax, where hackers breached computers, exposing half of all Americans' sensitive personal data to theft.

Donovan said Equifax was too slow in reporting the breach to Vermont and other states, was lax in protecting critical consumer data, and provided confusing information to the public.

"There has to be accountability," Donovan told attendees at the conference.

Donovan and his counterpart from New Hampshire, Gordon MacDonald, said they are working to protect consumers and get answers in what's still a developing investigation into the Equifax hack.

Speakers at the AARP event also warned seniors about common scams, like bogus calls claiming to be collecting taxes, or threatening to shut off utility service is someone doesn’t pay up.

In The Con Artist's Playbook, a piece of AARP educational material, a convicted scammer named Jimmy Edwards alerts people to how fraudsters play nice on the phone to win over unsuspecting consumers and trick them into thinking the caller is your friend.

"Logic goes out the window," Edwards said in AARP material, describing how experienced scammers can use friendly conversations and other tricks to convince seniors to fork over money. "The emotion kicks in; now I've endeared you to me. Now I'm no longer the predator on the phone — I'm Jim from New York!"

New Hampshire Attorney General MacDonald warned today's headlines may produce tomorrow's rip-off attempts.

"Hurricanes? Natural disasters? That is a huge opportunity for scammers to come in and take advantage of all of our natural human instinct to help down there," MacDonald told the roughly 225 people in attendance at the Scam Jam.

"It's too bad when you’re afraid to answer your own telephone," observed Barbara Allard, a senior who lives in Haverhill, New Hampshire.

Allard said she has received scam calls, posing as her grandchild in trouble.

"'Hi grandma, this is your grandson,'" Allard said, mimicking the scammers. "My grandchildren don't call me 'grandma,' so I just hang up."

The attorneys general said their best advice is to question and scrutinize every phone call, email, or text message consumers receive, asking yourself, "Am I being scammed?"

Donovan and MacDonald said the best offense against scammers is a good defense through education and prevention, because catching and prosecuting phone scammers can be very difficult.

More information on the Equifax hack is available through the Vermont attorney general's consumer protection program.

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