Fraud a booming industry in Southern Oregon

Fraud appears to be a growth industry in Oregon, and the Rogue Valley is a scammer's hot spot, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC released its annual consumer complaint report Wednesday, which showed that the Rogue Valley ranks 14th in the U.S. when it comes to consumer reports of scams and frauds per 100,000 inhabitants. The Eugene-Springfield area ranked ninth in the nation and the Roseburg area ranked seventh nationally in the number of frauds and other scams reported per capita.

Oregon ranked fifth-worst among states when it comes to fraud complaints per capita, according to the FTC.

"You could probably quadruple that number for how many people don't report these crimes to law enforcement," Medford police Detective Sgt. Scott Clauson said.

On average, Medford police get around 60 fraud and scam reports a month. That average falls short of the FTC's number, which listed 1,056 reports throughout the region in 2009. The remaining complaints are scattered amongst other police agencies in the area.

Fraudulent checks and mystery-shopper scams are the two most prevalent rip-offs being reported to the Medford police, Clauson said.

A mystery-shopper scam, which seems like easy money, usually comes in the form of an e-mail. The scammer will ask an individual to rate random products, telling them they will be paid for their effort.

"Don't send these people your personal information," Clauson said.

"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Because it can be hard to tell the difference between legitimate and fraudulent requests, Clauson suggests that people do some research before handing out their personal information to anyone.

"Google the company, ask for a phone number, look into it first," he said.

"I don't think we have a real solid answer for why Oregon's numbers are so high," said Tony Green, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice.

Five metropolitan areas in Oregon — including Bend and Albany-Lebanon — made the top 50 on the FTC's list of cities with the most scam and fraud reports per capita.

Clauson attributes part of the Rogue Valley's high fraud and scam numbers to its large senior-citizen population.

"Crooks usually try to victimize these individuals," he said.

Both Clauson and Green said methamphetamine and other drug use might contribute to these types of crimes.

"Educating the public is crucial to preventing these crimes," said Clauson, spokesperson for the Southern Oregon Financial Fraud and Security Team. The group provides consumers with information on how to avoid being victimized by financial crimes and gives updates about current scams circulating in the area.

With the 2010 Census around the corner, Denise Richardson, author of "Give Me Back My Credit!" is concerned that scams are going to pick up.

"Scammers use the census and tax times as opportunities to collect personal information," she said. "They are getting more creative."

Richardson said people need to be cautious. The Census Bureau will not ask for any personally revealing information, every official should have a government badge, and they will not use the Internet to contact a person in any way, she said.

"Sometimes it takes a little stopping and thinking," Richardson said. "People need to realize that it doesn't matter what your age is, you can still fall for these scams."

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