Americans get scammed in some way every year. According to Daily Finance.com, American consumers lost $1.7 billion because of financial scams such as fraudulent debt collectors, fake lotteries, identity theft and counterfeit checks. And if you think that information is scary, consider this: These kinds of scams are happening in your hometown.
According to an interview with Sullivan, Ill., Police Chief John Love, there are many records of scams that have happened in our area. Sadly, most of those who become victims are seniors. Most seniors have grandchildren, so they become easy targets. Love explains one scam that happens often. “One common scam is when a person receives a phone call stating that their grandchild has been in an accident or is in jail. The caller informs the senior that they must transfer the money to help them pay bond or to help pay for the accident. The scammer also advises the person to make sure that they do not tell anybody else. When that grandparent receives this call, they are scared and worried for their grandchild, so they easily give up their banking account information.”
Police Chief Love advises the public to keep from becoming victims. “If it sounds too good to be true, then there is something wrong with it.”
A new group from Mattoon, Ill., CoPro (Consumer Protection/Consumers Proactive), has begun to educate consumers about current scams. Their mission is “to provide educational and community resources on a proactive basis to prevent scam artists from taking advantage of residents.” Currently, the group is lead by Peggy Orr, who is a retired bank examiner. Her goal is not to just hand out fliers to consumers and let them go-she truly wants to help others. “We help consumers, not just seniors. We educate them on a proactive basis and refer those who have already been scammed to learn how to file complaints to the proper agency,” explains Orr.
The group also has several other reputable members as well:
* Mattoon Mayor: Tim Gover
* Mattoon Police Department,
* Kyle Gill: Mattoon Building Inspector
* Ella York: a representative from the attorney general’s office,
* Attorney Karen Fuqua
* Chris Walters: Consolidated Communications Fraud Department
During an interview with Orr, she informed us that anybody can get scammed but she does believe that seniors are targeted frequently. “Senior citizens usually were savers and have access to cash. Also, they often act out of compassion without hesitation.” Orr says. “The scammers come out whenever the opportunity presents itself.” Orr also offers some advice that can help you from becoming a victim of fraud. “Keep up on information concerning scams and remember the basic rules: Never give personal, medical or financial information over the telephone.”
Not only are there just telephone scams asking consumers for money, but there are homeowner scams too. Many of these involve a contractor who comes to your home, assesses repairs and gives you an estimate of the service cost. They ask to be paid upfront so that it will pay for building materials. Once the contractor receives the money-they never return. Orr offers helpful advice on this type of situation. “Find two or three contractors that offer an estimate on the repairs. Then call the attorney general’s office and find out if they have had any complaints against them. You can also do the same thing with the Better Business Bureau.”
If you feel that you have received unsatisfactory service, you have the right to file a complaint. You can file consumer complaints with the Attorney General. CoPro will also help people file complaints with the Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. Orr also explained how we could help each other out as a community. “When you have had a good experience with a company or person, write a letter to the newspaper and let everyone know. If they offered a great service or had manageable prices, let the public know. This will help others find companies and services that they can trust.”
CoPro is proactive on helping surrounding communities. They are starting a speaker’s bureau and are holding seminars to educate consumers. Recently, a seminar was held on May 23 at the First United Methodist Church in Sullivan. The presenter was Kent Metzger, president of K.A.M. Solutions P.C. K.A.M. Solutions P.C. is an Illinois Professional Engineering Design and Testing Firm in Mattoon, Ill.
Since working with his company, Metzger has seen several scams that target home-owners. “Some of the most common types of scammers that I see are improper roofing, traveling asphalt paving contractors, mold ‘experts,’ mold remediation contractors, duct cleaning services and demolition contractors.” Metzger advises homeowners how they can protect themselves from becoming victim to fraudulent services. “Stay away from contractors who show up unsolicited. Never retain a contractor without a written proposal. Insist on written proof of insurance. Do not be pressured or rushed into hiring them. Ask for and check references. Never pay for work until it has been completed or until the contractor has reached clearly defined milestones. Don’t be too trusting when someone is trying to sell you something. If the contractor is playing on your fears, discount what they are saying. Do your own research, consult with people who you know that you can trust, and make informed decisions.”
Metgzer believes that CoPro is a real asset to its community. “Peggy Orr is a driving force and is very persistent (in a great way) about getting their message out to the community. I believe that they are finding out that there are hundreds of scams to be addressed and that they are attempting everything that they can do to help people.”
Sullivan, Ill., mayor, Ann Short is also grateful for the new group CoPro. “Making folks aware in the newspaper and starting a new group is a good start to helping protect consumers against fraud.”
According to Orr, currently there is not a CoPro group in the Sullivan, IL area. While they are willing to help other areas, Orr does welcome anybody who would like to start a Sullivan group. She would work closely with them to get started.
If you missed the first presentation from CoPro this past Wednesday, you can catch another presentation that will be given on May 30 at 6:30 pm. It will be held at the Burgess Osborne Auditorium in Mattoon, IL. For more information about CoPro or forming a group in Sullivan, contact Peggy Orr at 217-460-1355.
Interview from the CoPro Founder: Peggy Orr
Interview from the Sullivan, Illinois Mayor, Ann Short
Interview from the Sullivan, Illinois Police Chief, John Love