Shares

By: Nathaniel Greene, Community & Culture Reporter

With the rise of digital technology and the increasing integration of convenience into daily life, scams have become more prevalent and sophisticated. Vulnerable people of all ages and ethnicities are prime targets for fraudsters. At a Houston Ethnic Media briefing on June 27, experts gathered to educate the community on recognizing and avoiding scams.

The Growing Threat of Scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to scams in 2022, a significant increase from previous years. This alarming statistic highlights the urgent need for awareness and prevention strategies among people, including young adults, who are frequently targeted through digital platforms.

Financial Fraud: Protect Your Money

Many adults often fall prey to financial scams, including check and bank fraud. Scammers steal checks from the mail, alter details, and cash them using stolen identities.

Connor Evans, detective in the Financial Crimes Unit of the Houston Police Department, explained, “What we see so much is check fraud and bank fraud. We see and get a lot of cases on our check frauds, both check forgeries, check counterfeiting, and identity theft to create bank accounts in victims’ names.”

Evans elaborated that fraudulent checks often come from stolen mail and are used to create fake checks, which are then deposited using stolen identities. Shockingly, some of these crimes involve postal workers who are bribed or coerced into stealing mail. Protecting your mail and regularly monitoring bank statements are crucial steps in preventing such fraud.

Beware of Phishing Emails

Phishing emails remain a significant threat, even for tech-savvy young adults. These emails, disguised as legitimate communications from trusted companies, aim to steal personal information. Sheroo Mukhtiar, Executive Director of SERJobs & Financial Empowerment Center, shared her experience, “I was naive to think that nonprofits would be spared from scam and fraud because we do good work in the community, of course I was wrong with that because, if anything, we are seen as an easy target.”

Mukhtiar recounted an incident where scammers impersonated her to target employees, highlighting the need for vigilance and verification of unsolicited emails.

Online Dating: Beware of Romance Scams

In the digital age, online dating has become commonplace. However, it also presents opportunities for scammers to exploit unsuspecting victims. Fraudsters create fake profiles on dating sites and social media, building trust with their targets before soliciting money. Beyond financial loss, victims can unknowingly become accomplices to money laundering schemes.

“Romance scams take more from you than money; they may turn you into a criminal,” warned Sandy Close, Executive Director of Ethnic Media Services.

John Brewer, Chief of the Economic Crimes Division at the Fort Bend District Attorney’s Office, added, “If it’s not your money don’t put it into your bank account because you’re probably trafficking.”

Immigrants and Language Barriers

Fraudsters often exploit vulnerable populations, including immigrants who may struggle with language barriers. Zenobia Lai, Executive Director of Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, pointed out that scammers capitalize on the confusion surrounding constantly changing immigration policies.

“You all hear from the news basically every week there’s a new immigration policy. Sometimes in the immigrant community, it is very difficult to really know what is going on,” she said. Scammers promise to help with immigration status in exchange for large sums of money, exploiting the victims’ fear and uncertainty.

Brewer provided a breakdown of how different racial and ethnic communities are targeted.

Latino Community: Victims often obtain fraudulent documents like driver’s licenses or Social
Security cards to secure employment or housing. “Simply having those documentations in their possession is a felony,” Brewer warned.

African Community: Money transfer schemes are prevalent, where criminals use bank accounts to move money, which constitutes money laundering.

Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern Communities: Business transactions are often based on relationships and handshakes without formal contracts, making it easier for scammers to exploit trust.

These situations are exacerbated by the lack of reliable information sources, making immigrants more vulnerable to fraudulent schemes. Connecting these communities with trustworthy resources and legal assistance is crucial in preventing them from falling victim to such scams.

Community vigilance and timely reporting are essential in combating scams. Stephanie Bauman, Elder Justice Coordinator at the United States Attorney’s Office, urged, “When you realize that something has happened, please report it.” Reporting scams can help authorities take action and prevent further victimization.

Tariq Gladney, Managing Attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid (Fort Bend), emphasized the societal impact of scams, “Scams can lead to financial ruin and loss of homes. If you think about the wealth gap and more people falling into poverty, it is something that society as a whole should be concerned about.”

Taking Preventative Measures

To protect against scams, Krystal Walker, Executive Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, advised, “My main takeaway is verify, verify, verify! If you care about your money, verify that you’re sending it to the right place and that you’re sending it to the right person. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Serena Mosley-Day, an Attorney at the FTC Southwest Regional Office, recommended careful consideration of payment methods, “Watch how you’re paying for things. If someone wants you to pay in cryptocurrency, wire transfer, gift cards, checks, do not use their methods of payment. I am a belt and suspenders person so if I’m not 100% sure of what’s happening, I will pay you with a credit card through a processor because then I have two levels of protection that I can protest if you end up not being the person that I thought you were.”

Conclusion

The fight against scams requires constant vigilance and community support. “Don’t be afraid to talk about scams. Stop, think fraud!” reiterated Rosario Mendez, FTC Assistant Director, Division of Consumer & Business Education.

When it comes to protecting your valuable assets, be wise and verify.