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Best defense against scammers: Education

Robert Mills - Lowell Sun - 18-01-12
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LOWELL -- Police and prosecutors have worked hard to teach seniors to protect themselves from a variety of scams that have targeted them in recent years, so scammers have begun to increasingly target immigrants instead, according to District Attorney Marian Ryan.

"We have, in Middlesex County, a pretty well-educated population who are seniors who know what they shouldn't fall for," Ryan said. "But bad guys are like us in some respects -- if one door shuts they'll look for another place."

Ryan spoke about such scams Wednesday in Lowell at a gathering of those who teach English as a second language at the Frederick Assad Abisi Adult Education center.

She said immigrants are particularly vulnerable because they are new to and unfamiliar with the community, hesitant to contact police, and often struggle with language as they seek to understand what is happening.

Ryan, who has volunteered as a tutor for those in literacy programs for immigrants, said ESL teachers are among the first people many immigrants let into their new lives, which puts such teachers in a good position to help recognize issues.

"One of the first relationships they might form -- and they become very deep relationships as you know -- is with an English as a second language teacher," Ryan said. "You become their teacher on any number of things, from clothing, to pediatricians, to all kinds of life information.

Ryan spoke to familiarize the teachers with common scams and scams that target immigrants, as well as resources that are available to help those who have been scammed or who are trying to determine if an offer is legitimate.

She went over common scams such as the grandparents scam and Nigerian prince scams, but also covered immigrant-specific scams such as those in which scammers claim immigrants have a won a lottery to get a via or green card.

While the U.S. State Department does use a lottery to select those who get some types of visas, they only do so through their official websites, and never charge a fee in order to win, she said.

Ryan also said immigrants can be particularly vulnerable to IRS scams, in which people call claiming to represent the IRS and demand that payments be sent immediately via wire transfer.

Ryan said those scams should be easy to spot, since the IRS never makes phone calls to those who owe taxes. She said the IRS only communicates by mail in such situations.

"'I got a call from the IRS,' is always the beginning of a scam," Ryan said. "They don't call you."

She said immigrants are also often unaware of state databases and organizations like the Better Business Bureau where they can research the legitimacy of individuals and organizations that claim to offer services.

She also warned that scammers often tailor their scams using personal information they've gathered about their targets, such as the names of grandchildren.

Adriana Giraldo, the student services coordinator at the center, said immigrants she works with often get things like credit card offers and other offers in the mail, and that she warns them to never sign anything until they fully understand what it is.

Giraldo said she and other staff also work to encourage people to contact police when they need help since some immigrants can be hesitant to do so.

Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor also attended, and said after the meeting that police do not check immigration status when people contact police to report being victimized.

Both he and Ryan warned that preventing people from falling victim to scams is particularly important since most scams are conducted across state and even international boundaries, which makes solving scam cases extremely difficult.

"Many times we can't solve these cases once the money is lost," Ryan said. "That's why prevention is so important."

Tags: scammers, immigrantws, seniors, common scams, lottery

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