Point of View: Scam artists take advantage of boro recession

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The United States has been in recession since March, ending a 10-year economic boom, recent government data show. Recession means people lose their jobs, and consumers lose their confidence in the economy. The lingering bearish stock market reflects the problem.

More than 50 percent of Americans are stockholders, and most of them have suffered heavy losses. These people probably refrained from the holiday-shopping spree. They were hoping the bull would soon charge again.

The Sept. 11 terror attacks have worsened the bleak picture of our economy. New York City alone has lost more than 100,000 jobs. Many will never get their jobs back. According to government records, recession generally lasts at least a year.

The Federal Reserve Board has made an unprecedented 11 interest rate cuts this year. But it takes time for such relief to trickle down to the ordinary folks. Ironically, money is readily available at banks, but some people balk at borrowing because of the uncertainty of our economy. Apparently a lot of families held off on purchases during this holiday season.

President Bush urged Congress to pass a stimulus package to revitalize our ailing economy as soon as possible. The package would create new jobs and cut taxes, including payroll taxes that would have direct impact on our economy. However, partisan bickering delayed its passage. Without jobs, many homeowners with mortgages could face the possibilities of foreclosure on their houses or selling them below market price.

Beware the con artists, who more often than not take advantage of these hard times to rip off innocent people. Some use phony ads to lure job seekers to call them. The calls, however, are never answered, but the callers are charged $17 for each minute while leaving a message on an answering machine. A friend’s daughter was the victim of just such a scam.

Three weeks ago, a guy approached me by phone, saying that a credit card was approved for me and asked me to tell him my mother’s maiden name. He got my name, address and Social Security numbers from other sources. He probably needed the last piece of information to get money from a credit card company or any lending institution or to make a big purchase at a favorite store. I told him that I didn’t like to give personal information over the phone.

A couple of years ago, some one used my credit card numbers to buy merchandise worth more than $3,000 at a famous department store on Queens Boulevard. With such a big charge, the salesperson should first check with the credit card company about the cardholder’s identification before closing the deal. The bank that issued the card told me of the big purchase two days later. It was too late.

And two weeks ago, another person from a bank unknown to me approached me by phone, trying to persuade me to borrow money or make a credit card balance transfer with a zero-interest rate until June 2002. It sounded too good to be true. I turned down the offer because he wanted me to provide him with my personal information over the phone.

But he persisted, talking about the “good offer” over and over again for almost 10 minutes. I had no choice but to hang up on him. My judgment might be wrong; he might be a real telemarketer. But caution is the best policy these days. I hope readers will respond to unsolicited calls with prudence.

A few months ago, both the print and electronic media reported a rash of thefts of Social Security numbers from people alive and dead. The perpetrators use them to get a driver’s licenses, to apply for credit cards, to get loans from banks, to get jobs and to sell them to illegal immigrants for a profit.

More recently, sophisticated pilferers set their sights on automated teller machines at Chase and Citibank in Queens and in other parts of the city. They employ cutting-edge technology to get images of the bank card numbers and passwords from the person who just used the machine; they then withdraw a large amount of money from the victim’s account. Watch out! You could be a potential victim of the widespread scam in this part of the country.

In addition, scamsters are trying to cash in on the $1 billion donated to help families of people killed at the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.

Some ne’er-do-wells pose as cops and firefighters to collect donations for families of colleagues dead at the terror attack. A man was arrested recently on a charge of posing as a firefighter soliciting donations.

A Georgia couple was arrested after being accused of defrauding a life insurance company. The husband allegedly reported his wife was killed at the World Trade Center attack in an attempt to collect life insurance.

These incidents are perhaps the byproducts of a recession.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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