February 8, 2018 10:46:42 AM
By the time the dishes were cleared and the announcements were made during Wednesday's meeting of the Columbus Kiwanis Club at Lion Hills, Doug Tyrone had about 30 minutes to deliver his message.
Tyrone, an investigator with the Mississippi Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Division, said he has about two hours worth of information that he would try to compress in a half-hour talk.
In rapid-fire succession, Tyrone rattled off case after case of investigations he has worked over the past 30 years, noting today's fraud perpetrators are constantly finding new ways to steal from unsuspecting citizens.
"They're smart," he said. "I hear people telling me all the time that if these people would just use their intelligence for legitimate purposes, they'd do better. That's not true. Believe me, these people are making millions of dollars. Our job is to catch them, and if I've learned anything over all these years it's that once you stop one scheme, there's always another one. It never ends."
Elderly people, especially widows and widowers, are particularly vulnerable, he said.
"They are isolated, alone a lot of the time," he said. "They get lonely and that makes them vulnerable."
With Valentine's Day approaching, the lonely elderly become prime targets.
"I can tell you story after story," Tyrone said. "I've worked cases where people who were successful, even wealthy, lose everything over a short period of time. They'll meet someone on a dating site or on social media, and before you know it they've emptied their bank accounts, had a reverse-mortgage on their house, clear-cut timber on their property, signed over their car title. They lose everything."
Tyrone said even those not susceptible to such online come-ons are vulnerable.
In fact, it can happen to anyone.
"There are a few things you can do," he said. "First, look what's in your wallet or your purse. If you have your Social Security card in your wallet, if it's stolen, you've given away your identity. You're in danger. It doesn't take long. These people know what they are doing. If they get your hands on your Social Security number, they can do pretty much anything.
"You have to be careful with your personal information," he added. "Don't leave your purse in your car, not even in your trunk. One thing we've learned is that these people are watching. If they see a lady get out of a car without a purse and go into a store, they know she's left that purse in the car. And they'll get it. ... So much of what makes people good victims are the little things you don't think about. That's what the criminals are counting on."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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