Senior News from May, 2006
Veterans’ Personal Data at Risk
The theft this month of a laptop computer from an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs has resulted in the disappearance of sensitive information on millions of U.S. veterans. Information including the names, birth dates, and social security numbers of 26.5 million veterans is now at risk.
The Department’s security has been criticized before, and is now under scrutiny. They assure the public that there is currently no indication that the data is being used for any reason, or that the burglar is even aware of the information. The data breach is the largest loss of Social Security numbers to date and the threat of fraud or identity theft remains an issue for U.S. veterans.
Man Convicted in Hurricane Katrina Relief Fraud
A Florida man, Gary Kraser, was convicted this month of wire fraud, and sentenced to 21 months in prison for fraudulently soliciting donations for Hurricane Katrina relief. In conversations on the Internet, as well as on his phony website, AirKatrina.com, Kraser falsely claimed to be making flights and organizing pilots to deliver medical supplies to areas in Louisiana hit hardest by the hurricane. According to the indictment, he claimed to personally finance these relief flights and asked for donations to pay for fuel. In reality, these flights never took place and the money collected went directly to Kaser’s PayPal® and bank accounts. However, in the first two days, he received $40,000 in donations.
Posted on the fraudulent website, AirKatrina.com, Kaser had written many messages documenting his supposed flights to Louisiana. In one message he wrote, “I’m flying full loads out, and offering the empty plane on the outbound for Air Ambulance. If we didn’t have the plane, I don’t think the little baby would have survived…” More messages posted on the website described similar acts of heroism that later turned out to be completely fictitious.
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, R. Alexander Acosta encouraged anyone with information about Hurricane Katrina relief fraud to contact law enforcement.
For more information on this topic, and other consumer-related issues, visit the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Tragedy Seen As Opportunity for Scammers
Two police officers for the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia recently were killed by a lone gunman for reasons that remain unknown. The gunman was also killed. This tragedy inspired some caring individuals to establish a trust fund for the families of the victims. The police department posted details on their website so the public can make donations to the fund, but the department is not soliciting for money.
With the tragic rampage still fresh in peoples’ minds, there have already been reports of a scam in which people are contacted by phone by someone claiming to be from the Fairfax County Police Department soliciting for donations. The police department is encouraging people not to donate money to anyone that solicits for the trust fund, but to get as much information as possible in hopes they can track down the scam artist.
This is a reminder that during times of grief and sadness, people are also vulnerable, and scammers do not hesitate to exploit peoples’ emotions to make a profit from someone else’s tragedy.
For information on the legitimate trust fund, visit the Fairfax County Police Department.
Free Internet Safety Classes Bolster Awareness
The AARP Washington state chapter has implemented a program to make Washington the most Internet savvy state in the nation. Partnering with Microsoft Corp., the state Attorney General's Office, and the Federal Trade Commission, the AARP is holding a total of six free seminars across the state to educate the public about staying safe from the many dangers on the Internet. At one seminar, more than 150 people, most of them 50 and older, packed a room for the four-hour class.
The state of Washington reports the second-highest number of fraud complaints in the nation. Chief of the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office, Sharon Nelson said, "We've seen more con artists, more hackers, more scams, more mining of your personal information." But experts at AARP insist that people are more willing to protect themselves by being educated and proactive, rather than dealing with law enforcement after they become a victim. Some of their suggestions to senior citizens on the Internet included reading the fine print on Web sites' privacy policies to learn how your private information will be used, and also reading the buyers' aggreements before making a purchase online. They also recommended that every household computer have an Internet firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and regularly downloaded updates for each operating system.
For more information about these free seminars visit http://www.aarp.org/states/wa/.