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Scam Jam + Frank Abagnale

Scam Jam. It sounds like something you put on toast. Or maybe a mix tape of fun songs. But in fact, some may argue, it’s more exciting than that. The Idaho Scam Jam Alliance (ISJA) is a group of organizations with one mission in mind: warn Idahoans about scams and arm them with information on how to avoid them.

Members include Idaho Attorney General’s Office, Department of Finance, AARP, Area Agency on Aging and of course, Better Business Bureau (BBB). Patricia Highley, Co-Chair of the Alliance and Education Coordinator at the Idaho Department of Finance explains, “Alliances like the ISJA, which is comprised of non-profit and government agencies, provide invaluable, unbiased information and support to Idaho’s communities.”

“We empower people to identify scams and fraud, to take a step back and evaluate when something is, “too good to be true,” and to take action to protect themselves and their loved ones from these cons without conscience.” -Cathy McDougall, Director of Outreach AARP Idaho

The Alliance does this by hosting free “Scam Jam” events throughout Idaho every year. Recently we hosted a Scam Jam in Meridian, ID, bringing in hundreds of seniors from across the Treasure Valley, eager to arm themselves against scammers. The seminar offers a days-worth of presentations on a variety of topics, focusing on different scams targeting our community. Keynoting the event was Idaho’s Attorney General, Lawrence Wasdon, who said scams are plaguing Idahoans, specifically, robocalls. His best advice? Hang up. Or better yet? Don’t event answer.

But the Idaho Scam Jam Alliance brought something, or someone, extra special to the Treasure Valley in 2019. On July 24th, AARP hosted a free event featuring Frank Abagnale. Who is Frank Abagnale? He is the con-man turned fraud-fighter who inspired the movie “Catch Me If You Can”.

Frank lived a life of fraud, under multiple fake identities, including pretending to be an airline pilot, forging checks and swindling money. He was eventually caught and arrested and ordered to work with the FBI. He continued his work with the FBI for over 40 years as an advisor on fraud schemes. And here he was, in Boise, Idaho, speaking to a room full of seniors, empowering them with ways to protect themselves from scams and identity theft. He is a fascinating speaker with exceptional credibility. Here are my notes from this special event:

Frank knew his con-life wouldn’t be long-lived: “I always knew I would get caught. Only a fool would think he wouldn’t.” And he lets his remorse be known, “I always looked back on what I did was unethical. It’s a burden I live with every day of my life.”

Frank turned down three pardons by three sitting presidents because “I don’t believe a piece of paper will forgive what I did more than my actions.”

People who hack mass data (like data breaches) warehouse that information for years. The longer they hold it, the more its worth. People can’t change their SSN or DOB. But if your credit or debit card information gets stolen at a local retail store, that info gets unloaded right away because card numbers can change.

Data is money and that’s why people want to steal it.

His prediction: passwords will be a thing of the past. They are too easy to break, and everyone uses the same password for everything. The example he gave was the Chase Bank commercial with Serena Williams running through town, she sees a necklace she wants to buy but doesn’t have her wallet on her. She accesses the Chase Mobile app and through the app she is able to get money from a nearby ATM. No passwords.

Whenever we ask identity thieves where they get their information, they almost always say social media. Know what information you’re sharing.

Two things never to put out on social media: date of birth and place of birth. With those two pieces of information, con artists have the first kernel of knowing everything.

Con artists love to buy old printers. They buy them used, wholesale. That’s because since 2002, all printers have a hard drive. That hard drive has LOTS of information. Clear those hard drives in printer and fax machines before getting rid of them.

When buying an at-home shredder, it’s important to know what type of shredder to get. It doesn’t matter the brand. What’s important is that it’s a “security micro cut shredder”.

Lastly, one of the most important things he told that audience was, “Everyone can be scammed. The most intelligent people get scammed. The best thing you can do is tell someone about it.” There’s an embarrassment that goes along with being a victim of a scam. But sharing your story helps spread the word and warn others.

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Written by Rebecca Barr

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