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May 21, 2006
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DA's forum focuses on educating public
By GREG WELTER - Staff Writer

OROVILLE -- Local residents learned about the latest frauds and how to keep from becoming a victim in a public forum presented in Oroville Thursday by the Butte County District Attorney's Office and Gold Country Casino.

DA investigator Jos Van Hout said about 60 people attended the forum and expressed concerns about identity theft and pushy telemarketers, in particular.

Van Hout said people were surprised to learn items they throw out, including mail, are essentially public property once a garbage can is placed on a curb.

"There may be a trespassing issue, but the items in the trash aren't protected," he said.

Generally known as "Dumpster diving," going through discarded mail is a major source of information leading to identity theft, Van Hout explained.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey said telemarketing scams continue to be a problem, and they are often directed at the elderly, who are less likely to hang up on someone and generally have a higher level of trust.

Van Hout said he played an audiotape, with permission, of conversations between an elderly Oroville man and people posing as representatives of the Canadian Lottery, which the man thought he had won.

The victim had paid out $280,000 in "prize processing fees" before a relative realized the lottery was a scam.

Van Hout said people were surprised at how direct and demanding some of the scammers were over the phone.

Another concern Van Hout said the forum raised was the practice of companies -- particularly credit card companies -- sending checks in the mail as an inducement to open an account.

"It's widespread," Van Hout said, noting that he gets about one a day in his mail.

The checks can be stolen -- either from the trash, or directly from a mail box -- then forged and cashed.

Van Hout said people wanted to know if, and how, the offers can be stopped. He told them it is difficult, if not impossible, because they come from so many sources.

More information about protecting yourself from fraud may be found at www.buttecounty.net/da, which includes a link for reporting fraud activity.

It can also be reported by calling 1-866-DA-FRAUD.

Ramsey said education and training equals awareness and prevention, and hopes to present forums like Thursday's on a yearly basis.

Staff writer Greg Welter can be reached at 896-7768 or gwelter@chicoer.com

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