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FELIPE/MERCURY-REGISTER D.A. Investigator Jason Wine, from
left, keynote speaker David Horowitz, and District Attorney
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
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
"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
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
"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,"
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
"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
"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!"
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
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
For more information about the free consumer booklet
offered by the U.S. government, see: www.consumeraction.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