PORTSMOUTH — An uptick in financial crimes and fraudulent activity across the United States has members of the Portsmouth Police Department concerned for the safety of locals.
In a time when personal connections are harder to come by due to limitations of the pandemic, residents of all ages are falling for scammers online and over the phone, according to Detective Rochelle Jones, the department’s community outreach coordinator.
“People are more susceptible to things when they’re vulnerable,” she said.
With the goal of increasing residential awareness of fraud, every Portsmouth resident and business will be receiving a scam protection and prevention pamphlet in the mail – one that identifies common phone and computer scams, gives tips on how to avoid similar scenarios and lists numerous resources where those activities can be reported.
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“We’re seeing scams (happen to people of) any age right now,” Jones said.
Those pamphlets will be mailed to residents and businesses this weekend.
The idea to send out information to locals, Jones said, was spearheaded by Capt. Darrin Sargent, and the pamphlet will have a letter from Chief Mark Newport attached to it.
In it, Newport says that the Federal Trade Commission found that last year’s top fraud crimes in the country were tied to “imposter scams.” Those included “scammers pretending to be government officials, charities, energy service providers, family members, or friends in need.”
In the 500,000 reports of those types of scams, the FTC reported a loss of $1.2 billion, Newport wrote.
“Please know that your police department continues to work diligently on financial crime investigations independently, or in collaboration with federal agencies. Identifying suspects and making arrests in some of these cases can be challenging, and financial reimbursement is not a guarantee,” Newport said in the letter. “One thing we know for sure, is that prevention is 100% effective.”
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Between Jan. 1, 2020 and Jan. 1, 2021, 124 reports of fraud were taken by the Portsmouth Police Department, cases that included wire fraud, computer crime theft, embezzlement, issuing bad checks, forgery and theft by extortion.
Of those cases, 97 were suspended, 21 were closed, one was deemed unfounded and five led to arrests. In all, the total reported loss was a staggering $327,674.00.
According to Jones, however, that figure should have the phrase “at least” attached to it, as monetary amounts are not given on some fraud cases.
Not all incidents go reported either, as Jones has seen a certain level of pride sometimes restrain an individual from going to the police or the necessary agencies when they’re a victim of wrongdoing.
“A lot of people think nothing’s going to happen with it or they’re embarrassed,” she said.
The comprehensive pamphlet includes, but is not limited to, common scams such as technical support calls, COVID-19 scams, fake calls of family members in trouble, identity theft, dating and romance scams, and phishing messages.
Portsmouth police recommended that residents don’t answer phone calls or messages from unrecognizable numbers, don’t send payments by prepaid card, gift cards, or wire transfer, and don’t accept social media friend requests from unknown people.
Residents are also advised not to allow themselves to be “bullied, threatened, or guilted into sending money to anyone for any reason.”
In his note, Newport says, “We care, we are here to help, we are all in this together.”
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“The information provided in this pamphlet is a proactive community outreach approach intended to help citizens and businesses be aware of scams and hopefully protect themselves (or others) from becoming victims of financial crimes,” he said. “(It is) also to provide guidance and support if you or someone you know has been taken advantage of.”
Scams can hit close to home at any moment and in plain sight, Jones said. Recently, when speaking on the phone with a family member, Jones recognized that her loved one was falling victim to fraudulent activity as she was speaking to him.
“These people are aggressive,” Jones said of the scammers.
Residents on the receiving end of fraudulent activity are encouraged to contact Jones at (603) 610-7503 or email her at [email protected]