CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- All Americans, especially senior citizens, should become increasingly aware of schemes that entice them to give up anywhere from $10 to tens of thousands of dollars of their money and life savings.
Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, gave a keynote speech on Wednesday at "Operation Scam Jam" in Charleston, an event sponsored by the AARP Foundation and West Virginia Smart Money Week.
"Protecting older West Virginians is an absolute priority of my office," Goodwin said. "Every single day, my office gets calls from seniors who have been targeted for identity theft."
Angela Vance, associate state director for the West Virginia AARP chapter, said, "I will be happy if you get nothing out of today except to think before you proceed with anything. Take a pause and think."
Goodwin mentioned several cases his office has prosecuted. He talked of caregivers taking patients' credit card numbers, and of people using 'false power of attorney' to drain the bank accounts of the elderly.
Today, if you steal someone's identity information, Goodwin said, you expose yourself to a "mandatory two years in jail," in addition to any other sentence imposed for the crime.
Goodwin mentioned a third case where "an elderly gentleman heard from a lawyer from Malaysia" who sent e-mails asking him for help in transferring funds to the United States. In this case, the victim ended up sending $120,000 of his own money to help that "lawyer."
"That was absolutely heartbreaking. This kind of case thoroughly troubles me. There is very little we can do," Goodwin said. "In many foreign countries, the law enforcement officials are almost as corrupt as the scammers."
Goodwin offered advice to his audience on Wednesday, including:
Scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated.
"Scammers will search your background. They may even pose as family members," Goodwin said.