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PAULA M. FELIPE/MERCURY-REGISTER D.A. Investigator Jason Wine, from left, keynote speaker David Horowitz, and District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
More than a 100 law enforcement officers attended the District Attorney's Fraud and Identity Theft symposium at the Gold Country Casino, Tuesday.

The keynote speaker was consumer advocate David Horowitz, who talked about the problems and challenges of dealing with different types of fraud today.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey began by showing a brief video clip of one of Horowitz's many TV appearances.

Ramsey said Horowitz's philosophy is: "Life is full of compromise, but to compromise principle is to give up your self-respect. I don't want anyone to take me for a sucker, and I don't want to see anyone else taken either. A lot of things are unfair in life. It's tough; that's the way it is. But, by heaven, if you can do something about it, do it."

Horowitz said, "People don't understand today what getting ripped off means. There are white collar criminals and many don't get caught."

Horowitz explained identity fraud occurs when someone steals personal information, such as social security cards, credit cards, or any number of other sources of information.

"Nine million Americans get nailed with identity fraud, and some don't even know it," he said.

It can take place in many different ways, and


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there are many cases. It is almost impossible for law enforcement to hit them, he said.

"People use their identification information for all kinds of things, such as to rent an apartment," he said. "Identity theft is serious and many victims don't have a clue how to go about resolving it."

Horowitz acknowledged the on-going challenge for law enforcement officers. "People report credit cards stolen and are told to report it to their credit card company. Law enforcement needs special training to investigate and handle these cases. There are several hundreds of thousands of these cases. There is a hole in the system, so the need for manpower increases as the problem grows and grows," he said.

Horowitz said it's not only a national problem, but an international one.

"There are people in other countries, such as Nigeria, England, and Canada using the Internet to commit fraud," he said. He spoke of an e-mail he received from someone claiming to be dying and wanted to know if he could send money.

"If you send your money to help'em, as soon as the check clears, they're gone," he said.

Horowitz said once a victim gets involved in an illegal scam, they often do not call law enforcement because they've become implicated in the scheme and could be charged for participating in a crime.

"And, victims of fraud cannot unsnarl it right away. It takes years to straighten it out. Where do you go for help?" he said, adding the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission offer some resources for help.

"But, your chances of solving it are almost nil unless you've been trained to know what to look for. And, even if someone is arrested for identity theft, the judges give them a slap on the hand. You're fortunate to have a tough D.A. here who is proactive. Your D.A. is right on top of this and is getting to the people before the harm is done," he said.

"The battle is simply unbelievable in terms of what kind of work you need to confront this issue and this symposium today is to sharpen everybody's awareness," he added.

Horowitz said he has talked with prison wardens and learned inmates share information about ways to commit identity theft and fraud.

With regard to telemarketing fraud, he said the FCC law was designed to cut those call out. "Some 70 million people joined the ranks of those who said, 'I don't want to answer these calls.'"

"My feeling is similar--we need to get out a law to counter identity theft and fraud. Find out what happens to victims of fraud. We don't have enough people to go out and investigate," he said.

Horowitz also spoke about "data breaches" when personal information is stolen from computers, such as when some 26.5 million identities were taken from the Veterans Affairs Department.

"The federal government cannot handle it all," he said.

"There were also 12 million names that disappeared from the phone company. And, some people sell names and addresses--about 500,000 to one million names are sold for about $250 to $300," he said.

One law enforcement officer in attendance shared how he and his wife were victims of identity theft.

"The bank did reimburse the money we lost. We were able to 'red-flag it' and it took about one to two months to straighten it out," the officer said.

"Yes, and you are a police officer and have more awareness than some people. But, for other people it takes years to clear up their records," Horowitz said.

Another type of scam involves "graveyard thefts" that occur when people steal personal information from the deceased.

"If someone if the family dies, don't put personal information in the newspaper about them because there are rats out there who will find out and try to get their way of life. Don't include any details," he said. Horowitz recommended mailing copies of the death certificate to reporting services and contacting the State Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Also, make sure insurance policies and other important documents are secured," he said.

Lottery scams are another type of fraud. "They are being sent to people and make it sound so good like you are a winner from some lottery," he said. "They think they'll make more money. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Horowitz said you can get a free booklet from the U.S. government. "It is a consumer action handbook with the names and addresses of federal agencies. You get all sorts of information instantly that you could spend hours and days trying to find out. It's a great resource book and it costs nothing," he said.

Horowitz added he would like to see school-age children learn about consumer training and how to protect themselves.

"How many schools offer an education on where to go for help if you're a victim of identity theft?" he asked. He recommended law enforcement talk to student in schools about fraud.

"It's catastrophic what people lose due to fraud. The rip-off artists come in numbers and droves. And, we are deluged with junk peddlers on the Internet," he said.

Horowitz shared some memories of being on Johnny Carson's show. "He came to me with ideas on what to do and he would do something out of jest," he said.

D.A. Ramsey said consumers would write to Horowitz about a product claim, and he would test it for them and bring it to the public's attention on his show.

Many years ago, an 8-year-old boy wrote to Horowitz about crayon marks not coming off with Pledge the way the commercial said it would.

Horowitz said, "It's great to have someone his age say, 'Hey, mom, they are not telling the truth.'"

Ramsey said the young boy's name is Jason Wine, who is an investigator for the District Attorney's Office and was in attendance at the symposium. Ramsey called Wine to the front of the room and Horowitz presented him with a "Fight Back!" T-shirt.

Ramsey explained Wine didn't receive a prize when he was 8, and Horowitz wanted to rectify that by giving him the T-shirt.

"I'm so in awe of what you do. I admire your life's work," Horowitz told Wine. "It's so important to know how not to get ripped off and how to be safe or you'll be up a creek without a 'you know what.'"

"Identity theft and fraud can happen to anybody--even police officers and judges and me--and we need to be aware and informed. If something sounds fluky, ignore it or check it out. Most people are oblivious until they get nailed, then they ask, 'What am I going to do?" he said.

Horowitz said education is absolutely necessary; and the media has role to play in informing people about cases of fraud. "Newspapers are becoming more cognizant," he said, adding there are about 140 different categories of fraud, and he receives about 2,000 to 3,000 letters a week about consumer fraud issues.

Ramsey said, "And, education and awareness helps prevent crimes from happening. Our purpose (for the symposium) is to train officers to recognize identity theft and learn to use the Internet, so we have a presence in cyberspace, make sure the bad guys get caught, and learn how to avoid being a victim."

For more information about the free consumer booklet offered by the U.S. government, see: www.consumeraction.gov and www.pueblo.gsa.gov

To see Horowitz's Web site, see: www.fightback.com

To learn more about fraud and identity theft, see the Butte County D.A.'s Web site at: www.buttecounty.net/da/

To report fraud in Butte County, call the D.A.'s toll free fraud hotline number at: 1-866-DA-FRAUD or 1-866-323-7283.