Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.
See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.
This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2010/03/scam-victims-united-nova-dc-public-safety/
- Audio begins -
Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back with the National Organization for Victim Assistance with Dr. Will Marling, the Executive Director of NOVA, and Shawn Mosch. She is a victim of fraud, but she turned that victimization into positive action. She is now with Scam Victims United at www.scamvictimsunited.org, but before talking to will and talking to Shawn, I want to thank everybody, once again, for listening, watching, and reading the materials that we have at our website at media.csosa.gov, D.C. Public Safety radio, television, transcripts, and blog. We are up to 200,000 requests on a monthly basis for everything that we do, and we are extraordinarily appreciative of everything that you’re providing us with, even the comments as to how many times I screw up, or ideas for new programs and directions in terms of where we should go, and meaningful conversations in terms of the comments log. You can log into the website, again, media.csosa.gov, or you can email me directly at Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T, P-E-S@csosa.gov or you can follow us via Twitter. That’s Twitter.com/lensipes,L-E-N-S-I-P-E-S, no break in those words. Back to your program. Dr. Will Marling, the Executive Director of NOVA, and Shawn Mosch, the person basically in charge of Scam Victims United, and to Will and to Shawn, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.
Will Marling: Thanks, Leonard.
Len Sipes: Will, I’m going to start off with you. How does the National Organization for Victim Assistance get involved with this issue of fraud. It’s pretty apparent to me – first of all, ladies and gentlemen, National Organization for Victim Assistance has been around for decades. At the very beginning of my stint in Washington, D.C., thirty years ago, there was the National Organization for Victim Assistance. When I worked as a senior crime prevention specialist for the Department of Justice’s clearing house, they also gave me the victim’s beat, which I knew nothing at all about, and the folks at NOVA were wonderful in terms of instructing me, and now we have Dr. Will Marling, who is now in charge of NOVA. How did we get into the scam and fraud issue?
Will Marling: Well, I tell you, we have a victim assistance line, Leonard, and you know, our expertise is primarily in violent criminal victimization and identity theft, but we get a lot of calls on this line. And of course, when people are looking for assistance, they see victim assistance, and we get, sometimes, a wide range of victim calls, but fraud victims, is there any angle, opportunity, remediation? What do they do? And while that’s not our area of expertise, we felt it important to start looking for at least some resources. We want to be able to at least hand them something, and that’s when we had the opportunity to connect with Shawn Mosch and Scam Victims United. And she’s a great resource, and the website’s fantastic. It’s a really useful tool.
Len Sipes: Is there any difference between identity theft and scams and frauds. It’s all pretty much the same thing, correct?
Will Marling: Well, no, no. I mean, you know, it all depends on the nature of the victimization, of course. Identity theft, you can have your identity stolen and never even know about it. The average identity discovered, the average identity theft discovery is twelve months, maybe, with a victim. With a scam situation, you’re engaging in something, and you believe that it’s an ethical, reputable approach, and then you discover that it’s not. There’s deception and this kind of thing, so there are different dynamics to it, and Shawn’s situation is even more irritating. She can tell you about that, but especially when people think they’re getting something, but they’re not, actually, that’s fraud.
Len Sipes: Absolutely. Now, I think I’m a perfect example of where I did not know. I mean, I’ve been in the business for forty years and I’m having a hard time distinguishing between identity theft and fraud. So, you know, there’s probably lots of people out there who may see – maybe they’re as dumb as I am and they see these issues as being one and the same. I mean, in essence, we’re concerned with burglary, we’re concerned with theft, we’re concerned with robbery, but much more money leaves our pockets through ID theft or through fraud and scams than through garden variety street crime, correct?
Will Marling: Well, you know, statistically, some of that’s hard to track. You know, we have uniform criminal reporting and a lot of that is related to the violent criminal side of things, which is horrific. But from the financial side, the emotional impact could be significant as well. When people take your earnings and something you’ve been saving for, or sometimes people end up losing quite a bit, and end up having to try to recover that, but at the heart of it, it’s an attack on us, personally, and it really steals something from us emotionally, many times, traumatically, and that’s why we still emphasize that. We recognize that certain outcomes from physical violence are different, and we as an organization are still committed to supporting violent criminal victimization folks who have that need, but we definitely see the growing, increasing demand on supporting fraud victims, because it’s there. And in the economic situation we’re in, these perpetrators are looking for every angle to still line their pockets with more money.
Len Sipes: And we’re going to do our very best today to stop them. Shawn Mosch, a victim of fraud. Tell us a little bit about that story and what brought you to create scamvictimsunited.org or scamvictimsunited.com.
Shawn Mosch: Well, back in 2002, my husband and I were selling a 1951 Buick Special that he had owned since he was in college, and we didn’t have a place to store it anymore, so we were selling it, and put an ad online, got some people that were interested. There was one person that sent us a cashier’s check to pay for the car and also to pay for shipping the car from us to them.
Len Sipes: Right.
Shawn Mosch: And we brought the cashier’s check to the bank, and because we didn’t know this person at all, we said to the bank, “We’re selling a car and we want to make sure that this check is good. You know, I don’t want to ship the car off or start using the money from this check and find out later it’s bad, and then we’re left in the hole.” And they said, “Oh, no, it’s a cashier’s check. Those are verified, it’s good in twenty-four hours. No problem.” And I said, “Wait, verified as good in twenty-four hours? That seems a little fast.” And they said, “Yeah, because cashier’s checks process faster.”
Len Sipes: Right.
Shawn Mosch: Twenty-four hours. That’s all you need to wait.
Len Sipes: I thought a cashier’s check was as good as cash. I’m sorry, go ahead.
Shawn Mosch: That’s the other thing that, you know, “Oh, they’re as good as cash,” so they assured me it had been verified, it was good, it was clear. The funds were available. And I said, “Okay,” so we went forward with the transaction. So part of that money was for shipping the car, and that we did to the person that was going to take care of that transportation, and then the other part was for the sale of the car, which we kept. So one week to the day later, the bank called us and said the check was counterfeit. And I said, “Well, what does that mean for me, because you already told me it was good and it was clear. You can’t un-ring that bell.” And they said, “That means you owe us the money.” I said, “What do you mean, I owe you the money? You told me it was good. I wasn’t going to touch the money – ”
Len Sipes: Until you told me it was good.
Shawn Mosch: Until I knew it was good and it was clear and it was verified. “You told me it was. What did I do wrong?” And actually, once I got talking with our legal department, my husband even asked them, and this was now days after we had found out it was counterfeit, and he said, “How long does it really take for a cashier’s check to clear?” And they put him on hold and then came back to the phone and told him, “Twenty-four hours, sir.” And we said, “Well, wait a minute. If that was accurate, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Len Sipes: It is, it is -
Shawn Mosch: Like it’s the real time, and they were never able to give us that information. So basically, I was upset. I started talking about this to anyone and everyone that would listen, started a message board, and through the message board, we found other people that this was happening to. So at first, I thought it was just my bank’s policy was messed up. So then, as I started to look at it, I found, ‘No, it’s the banking system.’ The banking system will tell people the check is good, it’s clear, and make the funds available in twenty-four hours before the check has been honored by the issuing bank. So now you can use and spend that money and then it could be 7-10 business days later that it comes back as counterfeit, and then you are liable for all that money.
Len Sipes: And how did you, how did all this make you and your husband feel?
Shawn Mosch: Oh, we were very upset.
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Shawn Mosch: So, we started talking to the media, and once it started to get in the media, we got even more people that were telling us, “Oh, it happened to me. Oh, same thing,” so then we started the website, Scam Victims United, and that was in early 2003. In the first two years of our website being operational, we helped stop over $2,000,000 from going into scams.
Len Sipes: That’s amazing. Now, okay, so you hold the key, then, for the rest of us, to tell the rest of us what not to do.
Shawn Mosch: That’s ironic that you used that phrase, because I did a presentation called ‘Education is the key.’
Len Sipes: Right.
Shawn Mosch: So we can all hold the key. Education about scams and frauds is the key.
Len Sipes: But every day, we are confronted with these scams, and I remember being on my computer and being three-quarters of the way through this statement from my bank and it just struck me – again, I’ve been a senior crime prevention specialist for the federal government. I’ve been involved in the crime prevention arena for a decade. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for forty years, and I was within a keystroke of sending fraudulent information through a phishing scheme. Any one of us could fall for this. I was on Gmail the other night and, you know, the scams that run on Gmail seem to be every single day. This is amazing. I mean, we are under attack.
Shawn Mosch: Every time we think we got the word out about this scam, they’re going to invent another one.
Len Sipes: And they look so legitimate.
Shawn Mosch: Oh, yeah, so many of them, they use the logos and all the right letterhead, and you get the check – the bank managers can’t even tell, by looking at the check, if it’s good or not.
Len Sipes: That’s amazing.
Shawn Mosch: But this is why I always tell people that if you are sent a cashier’s check or money order – because they’re also counterfeiting money orders and traveler’s checks – if you’re sent any one of those for payment for anything – something you’re selling online, a donation to a charity, payment for a room you’re renting, if you are sent cashier’s checks, money orders, traveler’s checks, and then told you need to wire any money to anyone, it’s a scam. They will go as far as doing on Craigslist – they’ll go out there and find somebody who’s renting a room. They’ll say, “Yep, I want to rent your room, send you a cashier’s check for the first month’s rent and deposit.” Then, once they know you’ve deposited the cashier’s check, they’ll say, “Oh my gosh, something happened. I’m not going to be able to move in with you. I’m so sorry. I have to back out of our contract. Can you just wire me back the money?”
Len Sipes: Wow, that’s amazing.
Shawn Mosch: This is the thing that I get all the time. So many people would say, “Well, I wouldn’t be dumb enough to wire money to somebody I don’t know.” But in that situation I just described, if you were renting out a room in your home to someone, and then they emailed you and said, “My mother passed away. I have to stay where I’m living to help out the rest of my family and I have to back out of our contract and not move into your room. I know I already sent you a thousand dollars. Keep a hundred for your trouble and inconvenience. Wire me back the rest.” Most people go, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. Yes, of course, I’m going to send you your $900.”
Len Sipes: Right. Okay, well, what are the three major things, as consumers, as regular, everyday people, that we can use to prevent this sort of thing from happening to us?
Shawn Mosch: Like I said, if you’re sent any sort of check, cashier’s check, money order and asked to wire any portion of it to anyone for any reason – I don’t care if their grandma died and their house fell down on top of them and they need the money – don’t.
Len Sipes: It’s a fraud.
Shawn Mosch: That’s the first thing. I mean, absolutely 100%, every single time I have ever talked with a person and that is their situation, it is a scam.
Len Sipes: Okay, give me another.
Shawn Mosch: Again, like you were talking about with the phishing scams, never ever click on a link in an email. If you get an email from your bank that says that there’s a problem with your account, call the customer service number to your bank and talk to a real human being.
Len Sipes: And don’t call the customer service number listed on that email. Right.
Shawn Mosch: Yeah, you can’t call the phone number listed in the email, because that might be redirected to the scammer, who is going to tell you, “Oh, yes, we need your information.” You know your bank. You bank with it every day. Pick up the phone and call their local number. Same with credit cards, where they say there’s a problem with your credit card. Flip over your credit card; look at the back. There is a customer service phone number. Call that number and say, “Hi, I got an email saying there’s a problem with my account.” If there really is a problem with your account, their help center will be able to pull it up and there will be a big flag on your account that says, ‘Yep, here’s the problem we need to fix.’
Len Sipes: But even -
Shawn Mosch: Don’t click the links on the emails.
Len Sipes: The example that I gave a little while ago with Gmail – I mean, all they’re asking for is account information, and I’m saying to myself, “Well, they’re not asking for my social security number. They’re not asking for my date of birth. They’re not asking for my home address. They simply want the account information. How could that possibly help them?” And then I said to myself, “Oh, silly, everything in there – something in there – whatever it is that you used to sign up for it provides them with access to practically everything else that you’re doing. Don’t do it.” And I emailed it to Gmail and they emailed back saying, “Yes, it’s fraudulent. Don’t worry about it.” But what that does is there are so many of these frauds going on, it almost makes you wary of any official correspondence coming to you via the Internet.
Shawn Mosch: It does, and I noticed that with myself, that every email I read, I kind of look at it and go, “Well, is this person really up and up?” And I do my research now. Google is a wonderful resource. If you are in doubt at all, copy and paste the person’s email address into a Google search, and if they have done this scam to somebody else, there is probably a post somewhere. We have had so many people come to our website because they did just that. They either Googled the name of the scammer, their email address, the companies they said they were working for, or their phone number, and it brought them right to our website, because so many people have posted, “Here’s the name and information about our scammer on our message board, so then we’re helping others to prevent the scams, because they did the Google search and found the information.”
Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests. Dr. Will Marling is the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, long, venerable, and honored within the criminal justice system for the work that they do. You can reach the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org. www.trynova.org. Our other guest today is Shawn Mosch. She is a victim, but more important that she took her victimization and turned it into something wonderfully positive. She is the person who organized Scam Victims United and it’s www.scamvictimsunited.org or www.scamvictimsunited.com. All right, so basically, any time you get a cashier’s check, any check, and you’re asked to wire the money back, that’s an obvious fraud. You know, never click any attachment or an email asking for any personal information. Go back to your bank, go back to your credit card company, go back to Google and just be suspicious of just about virtually any email requests that you get. But I bet you people are scammed all the time by regular U.S. mail.
Shawn Mosch: They are. The ones we see the most are the Internet ones, because most of the scammers are in another country and the problem is, you report the crime to your local police, and they can’t do anything jurisdiction-wise because they’re in another country.
Len Sipes: Because they’re in Russia.
Shawn Mosch: Now if Nigeria, the United Kingdom, usually. Sometimes Canada. But Nigeria is probably – if I had to put a top three, it would be Nigeria, U.K., and then Canada.
Len Sipes: Mm, that’s amazing. So I was overly stereotypical, because I heard so much about servers in Russia, even if they’re in other countries, being used for scams, but England and Canada and Nigeria, those are the three. All English commonwealth countries.
Shawn Mosch: Exactly.
Len Sipes: Interesting, interesting.
Shawn Mosch: Yeah, with Canada, the big one was the Canadian lottery, that they would get a letter saying that they had won the Canadian lottery and then you have to contact this person. Now you might get that first letter of contact via snail mail, but after that, things like the cashier’s check are usually sent overnight, like FedEx, the reason being the scammers know if they mail that counterfeit cashier’s check in the U.S. mail, that’s mail fraud.
Len Sipes: Yeah, and there’s a whole organization to -
Shawn Mosch: They use a delivery system, then it’s not.
Len Sipes: Okay, understood. I mean I get the British lottery scam every single night in my Gmail. When I open up my Gmail, the British lottery scam is there every single night.
Shawn Mosch: Oh, I get it too. I get it sent to admin at scamvictimsunited.com.
Len Sipes: [Laughs] Well, again, what is the larger perspective in all of this, Will Marling, Executive Director of NOVA. What is the larger perspective? Have we covered it in terms of our introduction? I would imagine – my guess is that this is happening a hundred times more than burglary, even though we don’t have hard data on it. My guess is that this is happening far more than street variety crime, and that this is a real issue, not only for this country, but for organizations like yours.
Will Marling: Well, sure. I mean, it’s hard to quantify, certainly, because these spamming situation, they can send out a hundred million emails and even a very tiny percentage of response is still a meaningful response for them, because it’s just the law of large numbers. Our main concern is educating people, like Shawn does so well, because really, at the end of the day, a lot of it truly is common sense, and that isn’t to minimize people or to criticize people who have fallen for this, because to be honest, we’ve had people perpetrate on our organization for things. And sometimes, you know, you want to step forward and, with an open hand, meet people and assume the best, but then you discover later on – but with a lot of these things, it plays on certain intrigue that we all have. The opportunity may be to get something for nothing, like some of these phishing opportunities, but as much as that, many times it’s just stopping and thinking. You know, does the bank need to ask you for all your personal information? Shouldn’t they have it already? I mean, why would they need to verify all that?
Len Sipes: But it’s impossible, though, Will. I mean, don’t you think, in the situation with Shawn, somebody handed her a cashier’s check. If somebody handed me a cashier’s check and if my bank said, “You know what? You’re good to go,” I would pretty much bet the farm that I’m okay.
Will Marling: Well, sure. And that’s because you have a good relationship, at least at the time, with the bank, and you’re trusting them. But again, you know, we’re talking cashier’s checks, and so it’s an awareness issue. It’s a consumer consideration to say exactly what’s going on here, and to be honest, it’s going to continue, I presume, at that level, until the banks become more committed to educating consumers themselves, and their clients, their customers, as to what truly can happen. I can’t see any reason for the bank to say, “No, we need to hold onto this. There could be a concern. We see a profile, we see a pattern, and here are the steps we recommend you take. Let’s work together on this.” But the bank just needs to recover their money.
Shawn Mosch: Banks don’t have any incentive – the bank doesn’t lose any money. It’s the customer that has to pay back, so if the bank was liable, you know there would be changes, that they would be making sure that the check is legitimate before a penny went out. And I have stressed to people that all it would have taken was for the bank to say, “The funds are available, but the check might not clear for 7-10 business days.”
Len Sipes: Right, so let’s not touch the money until -
Shawn Mosch: Probably 96% of the scam victims. Excuse me?
Len Sipes: I said, so the bank would say, “Let’s not touch that money until it does clear.”
Will Marling: Right.
Shawn Mosch: Right, but on a banker’s stand, because I’ve talked to the bankers on this issue, they say that for every cashier’s check that comes in, you have to hold it for 7-10 days, we’re going to get pissed off customers coming in and going, “Well, it’s my money. I want my money now.” You know, “My brother-in-law wrote me that cashier’s check, so I know it’s good.”
Len Sipes: Well, let him sign a release, then.
Shawn Mosch: In that case, have a form that they sign that says, “I’m releasing the bank of any liability. I understand that it might still come back on me.” At least tell people that it could take 7-10 business days, versus saying “Twenty-four hours. Good as gold.”
Will Marling: Right. I mean, all you need to do is hold onto the money. My thing is, okay, clear as the bank hands you the money – well, hold onto the thousand dollars for two weeks, because you can turn it back into the bank, right?
Shawn Mosch: Exactly.
Will Marling: But people don’t think about that. Naturally, we’re trying to conduct our business, and if the people you trust, which is your bank, like Shawn’s saying, since she was fifteen – you know, the bank says, “Hey, you’re okay.” Well, you know, it’s like somebody in the business saying, “It’s okay.” And that’s what needs to change.
Len Sipes: It’s sort of like the automobile industry years ago, where in the crime prevention field, we knew that by computer chips and keys, would virtually eliminate, to a large degree – now they can come along and tow the car away – but if you would have a computer chip in a key, that would eliminate probably 70% of automobile thefts. They’ve done that, and automobile thefts have plummeted. It’s the same way with the banks. They’ve got to step up and take responsibility, it sounds like.
Will Marling: That’s what it sounds like to us, too.
Shawn Mosch: Exactly.
Len Sipes: Okay. Shawn, we only have a couple minutes left. This program has flown by like wildfire. Give me a couple more tips in terms of what people need to do.
Shawn Mosch: Again, Google is your friend. Google everything and anything. Go to places like our website. We have a message board where we update information on scams. You can do a search there. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook, where you can follow our blog, where we’ll let you know about the latest and greatest and newest twists in scams.
Len Sipes: I’m going to do that.
Shawn Mosch: Also checking out the Internet Crime Complaint Center. When we were talking about statistics and how much money is lost to scams, the Internet Crime Complaint Center keeps track of that kind of information.
Len Sipes: Is that the FBI center?
Shawn Mosch: They always say – excuse me?
Len Sipes: Is that the FBI center? The Internet crime center that you just mentioned?
Shawn Mosch: They are a coalition between the FBI, the national white-collar crime center, and a couple other organizations.
Len Sipes: Okay. What’s their website? Do you know offhand?
Shawn Mosch: Um, the ic3.org, I believe?
Len Sipes: Pardon?
Shawn Mosch: It’s Internet Crime Complaint Center is probably the best place to go.
Len Sipes: That’s why – just Google that and people can get to it. All right, do you have another one?
Shawn Mosch: Exactly. Well, I was just going to say that even their statistics, though – and they will tell you this, too – are low, because they know that not everybody reports scams and frauds. Because most people will say, “Oh, I’m embarrassed that happened to me, that I fell for it.”
Len Sipes: I was mortified when it almost happened to me. Go ahead, please.
Shawn Mosch: If somebody robs you on the street corner, you would report it.
Len Sipes: Right.
Shawn Mosch: People who are victims of Internet scams and frauds need to report that, too, so that we have accurate information of how much is being lost so that we can encourage our lawmakers to change things to protect the customers, because if we would have kept all that money in the U.S., the economy would be doing a little bit better right now.
Len Sipes: Oh, absolutely. And you’re right, looking at it from an economic point of view, you’re a thousand percent correct. I wonder how many millions or billions are leaving the country every year due to fraud. We have a minute and a half left.
Shawn Mosch: If just our website can stop $2,000,000 in two years.
Len Sipes: Wow. Okay, and I’ll give out the website at the end of the program. Will, do you have any closing remarks?
Will Marling: Yeah, just to clarify, it’s ic3.gov. Ida Charles three dot gov is the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Len Sipes: Right. Ic3.
Will Marling: Yeah, that’s the one we give out, and snopes.com is also another site that collects scams, aberrant emails – it’s snopes.com.
Len Sipes: Okay.
Will Marling: And I think we’re becoming more educated – there’s no question. But you feel for folks who just don’t realize what’s down the pike. Wailing is another issue for even executives, where people get information on the inside a little bit, enough to go through, say, an administrative assistance and forward on, and so the executive thinks that it’s legit because the administrative assistant forwarded it on. It all looks legitimate. So even within a company, you just have to be careful with your email. You have to know exactly who you’re talking to and what they’re talking about.
Len Sipes: Well, we’re out time and I do want to summarize; what I’ve heard today is that if you’re sent a cashier’s check and your asked to wire money back for whatever reason, don’t. It’s a fraud. Never click on an email where they’re asking for personal information. Contact the bank, contact the credit card company. Every email request, be extraordinarily suspicious as to what it is that they’re asking for. Google is a friend, one of the things I heard from Shawn. Google that information to see if there’s anything that pops up on the Internet in terms of fraud information. You’ve got the Internet Crime Complaint Center, i3g.gov, and we’ll mention snopes.com S-N-O-P-E-S.com. And I do want to emphasize, again, Shawn’s website: www.scamvictimsunited.org or www.scamvictimsunited.com. And once again, for Dr. Will Marling, the Executive Director of NOVA, it’s www.trynova.org. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again. 200,000 requests. We couldn’t be successful unless we had your input, your suggestions, and criticisms, and feel free to point out all the times I screw up. I am enjoying those. And again, for those of you who ask us questions that are outside the scope of the radio show, that’s fine with us. We’ll find help for you, so feel free to get back in touch with us if you like. Again, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, that’s for the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in downtown Washington, D.C., or follow us via Twitter at Twitter.com/lensipes. I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.
- Audio ends -