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Published: Wednesday, 2/28/2007

MONROE COUNTY Lectures for seniors focus on ID thefts

BY BENJAMIN
ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Monroe County prosecutor's office is providing senior citizens with more information in an effort to curtail identity theft.

In addition to daily exercise classes, yoga, euchre or keno games, weekly movie nights, blood pressure tests, and doctor appointments, seniors will now get protection against high-tech thievery.

Prosecutor William Paul Nichols has started a series of lectures at senior centers countywide on identity theft, handing out tips and giving warnings to seniors - some of the criminals' prime targets.

Once the thieves have a person's name, address, and a bank account, Social Security, or credit card number, they can steal a person's identity.

Mr. Nichols said identity thieves take outgoing mail and garbage and search through it for useful tidbits.

"They take advantage of seniors something fierce," said Carol Butler, 69, of Petersburg, who attended the series' first lecture at Dundee Senior Center last week. "I now shred everything. I just figure that's the safest thing to do."

Mr. Nichols recommends that people check their credit card and bank statements at least every month and get a copy of their credit report annually.

Michigan has the eighth highest rate of identity theft among states nationwide, according to a report last month by ID Analytics Inc., an identity risk management company.

Mr. Nichols said one 80-year-old Luna Pier woman was recently duped out of $80,000.

She received a letter saying she'd won $1 million in the Australian lottery. She was thrilled.

But the "Australian lottery officials" wrote her and told her, because of the 3 percent "Australian tax," she would have to pay them $30,000 before receiving her winnings.

After the "foreign officials" received her $30,000, they wrote to inform her they had made a mistake.

"They told her she'd actually won the grand prize, which was $2 million," Mr. Nichols said.

Now already cognizant of the 3 percent tax, the Luna Pier resident dutifully sent another $30,000 check to Australia.

She eventually was sent a notice by an "Australian law enforcement agency" saying she had been scammed and would not be receiving the money.

She sent $20,000 to the "law enforcement officials" after they said they needed payment for their services.

Mr. Nichols said the Luna Pier resident had to sell her house and is now living with her daughter.

"Never provide information to someone unless you know them or you initiated the contact," Mr. Nichols said. "And carry only the identification information that you actually need."

Mr. Nichols will continue the lecture series when he goes to the Frenchtown Senior Center at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Monroe Senior Center at 10:30 a.m. March 12, and the Bedford Senior Center at 11 a.m. April 10.



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