Los Alamos Police Department Det.Sgt. James Rodriguez addresses local Rotarians. Photo by Linda Hull
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
“Scam artists are smarter than you are,” explained Detective Sergeant James Rodriguez when he spoke on February 15 to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. His presentation, entitled Scams and Fraud, outlined through PowerPoint slides, the complexity of these crimes.
New Mexico State Statute 30-16-6 defines fraud as “the intentional misappropriation or taking of anything of value that belongs to another by means of fraudulent conduct, practices or representations.” Based on the value of the property misappropriated, the accused party can be charged with misdemeanors or felonies of different degree.
Rodriguez outlined a lengthy list of scams that are most common. These included those that involve social security, arrest warrants, drug cartels, social media, investments, sweepstakes, tech support, and emails. Currently, frauds committed by email are the most popular, he stressed, and “often allow the scam artist to gain full access to your computer data.”
Among the most vulnerable population are seniors, especially those who have been most affected by the isolation of the pandemic. In Los Alamos, Rodriguez said, “It’s retirees.” He has covered cases here in which local residents “have lost over $100,000 each; one lost $200,000.” Once your information is in the scammer’s system it is extremely difficult to recover. The scammer is “part of a well-organized system with transfers of your money heading to Singapore, as an example, and all over the world, almost immediately.”
Regrettably, very little of the money lost is ever recovered.
To avoid being a victim of scams and fraud, Rodriguez urged the audience to “ask questions, get the caller’s phone number, hang up. Then you initiate the call back to make sure the call was legitimate.” He went on to add, “Do your own research. Do not share personal information. Change passwords regularly, and monitor your credit.” Also “set up security system tools on your electronics,” and “remember, the government will never ask you for money over the phone or to pay with a gift card!”
Rodriguez also elaborated on what victims should do and what law enforcement will do. “First of all, contact your bank or credit card company or the institution involved. Lock all accounts and run a credit check. Stop interacting with the scammer, and report the crime to the police.” Don’t forget to “take good notes during your interaction with the scammer. Names, numbers, emails addresses and so on.”
With this information, law enforcement will “search warrants, schedule interviews, and investigate,” tracking the origin of the scam and working with the FBI and other agencies, including banks and other financial institutions. Law enforcement will also make contact internationally as needed.
Depending upon the nature of the scam or fraud, Rodriguez suggested visiting these websites: https://econsumer.gov/#crnt, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission; https://www.ic3.gov/Home/ComplaintChoice/default.aspx/, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center; www.usa.gov/scams-and-frauds, a federal website; and https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/phone-scams, a federal website specifically for phone scams.
In closing, Rodriguez reminded Rotarians, “Scammers are smarter than you are. Don’t play their game.”
Detective Sergeant James Rodriguez is originally from Las Cruces and has served in law enforcement for 18 years.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00, in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course. A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, 505-662-7950. Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service.