SD Attorney General Larry Long speaks in Philip

Information against con artists ... Mike West helps distribute free packets as South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long describes the most common types of scams and consumer fraud that are currently being worked on state citizens.

Larry Long admitted to his audience that he felt comfortable in the Philip area, since he grew up in nearby Martin and often visited Philip as a youngster, especially remembering playing baseball against Philip teams. He knows many local people, such as Mike West who introduced him to the crowd. The Philip AARP hosted Long's visit during the monthly Senior Center public luncheon on March 21st.

Long said that the Attorney General's office and its 150 employees use two-thirds of their time and budget for law enforcement. Generally speaking, jurisdiction of city officers stops at the city limits, and jurisdiction for county sheriffs stops at county lines. Long's department covers South Dakota as a whole.

The office also provides lawyers for the state government level.

The third responsibility for the Attorney General's office is to advocate for South Dakota consumers. Five department employees stay busy with this, considering that the best estimates indicate that scams, cons and fraud in America are a $40 billion per year business. Eighty percent of fraud victims are retired people.

The most common scam is simply adding a small sum to people's bills, such as credit card bills. Studies show that Americans will blow $20 on almost anything. They often won't realize an extra, small item on their bill, and will usually not think of it as a fraud if they do catch it. Scrutinizing bills each month is the best protection from this "cramming" or "upgrading" of items on to a bill.

After a man complained that DirectONE had wrongly billed him for extra items, the company wrote to him saying that his wife had authorized the purchases. His wife had been deceased for years. The South Dakota Attorney General's office sued DirectONE for that citizen and all South Dakotan clients of the company who had such padded bills. A settlement was reached in 2002 under which the company paid direct restitution of approximately $117,000 to more than 800 consumers in South Dakota. It also paid $52,000 for investigative and administrative costs.

Long said that only 19 of those 800 had reported anything to his office.

The second most common fraud is a check/money order scam. Never send anyone a money order until days after any check that they may have sent you clears the bank. The idea is that their quality-looking check won't be discovered as bad until your good money order has reached them.

One version of this scam is a victim is told to pay for taxes or international regulation fees in order to then receive their winnings from a lottery. The lottery check looks real enough to temporarily fool most banks.

"Why anyone would fall for this - thinking they could win even a second place in some lottery that they didn't even enter - is beyond me," said Long. Long acknowledged that older people don't want their neighbors or adult children to find out that they have been so smoothly cheated. "Frankly, if it was me, I wouldn't enter out-of-state lotteries at all," said Long. "If nothing else, your name will be sold to be put on a 'suckers list'."

The third most common scam is identity theft.

"The more populated areas you get into, the more it is a world of numbers. You identify yourself with a number," said Long. Crooks can get other people's numbers by glancing through wallets or purses, conning a victim into giving those identifying numbers over the phone or computer, or stealing people's mail or garbage.

To minimize anyone getting their numbers, people should pay attention to their billing cycles, guard their mail from theft and put passwords on their credit cards, bank accounts and bills.

Long ended his presentation by distributing anti-fraud information and inviting people to contact his office.