A rainy night In Georgia

Published: Monday, May 11, 2009

Georgians battle elements and bumper-to-bumper traffic to become MoneyWi$e

Community Outreach Manager, Linda J. Williams, was jolted out of a deep sleep by a sharp, large crack of thunder, followed by the roar of rain as it poured out of the sky onto the dry red clay dirt. Williams wondered, as she drifted off to sleep, if the storm would keep participants registered for the May 7th MoneyWise training from attending the event. Six hours later, Williams welcomed 55 Georgians, who braved the elements to attend the training. They came representing agencies from all over the state such as Legal Aid, Senior Helpers, and Kin Care, just to name a few. Cohosted by Georgia Cares and the Georgia Department of Aging, the training was held at the Wyndham Peachtree Convention Center in Peachtree City, Georgia. Leading off with the topic of identify theft, Williams told the audience that identity theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in America. She outlined the difference between a fraud alert and security freeze, noting that the freeze is the strongest of the two because it makes credit files off-limit to new creditors. She identified some of the pros and cons of the credit freeze; it is cheaper than a credit monitoring service, but can be costly to nonvictims. She stressed monitoring one’s credit report as a way of detecting and defending against identity theft. She suggested staggering credit reports by requesting one from each of the three credit bureaus every four months. Participants were reminded that Georgia’s state law allows them to receive an additional free report each year. In response to questions on credit card fraud and how it occurs, Williams taught participants how to recognize different types of card fraud, and she explained that credit card fraud can occur when cards are lost or stolen, when mail is diverted by criminals, through data breaches, and when an employee of a business steals customers’ information. When a participant stated that her daughter uses a different number each time when ordering items online, Williams explained the practice is called scrambling. Many credit card companies now allow consumers to generate a number for one-time use online, so their real card numbers will not fall into the wrong hands. During the “Just Say No” to scams presentation, Williams shared a variety of scams such as phishing, pharming, and shoulder surfing. One participant commented that nothing is sacred any longer. Williams agreed and warned participants to be vigilant because scams go up in a down economy, and when there is a tragedy. She pointed to the scams that occurred after 9/11, Katrina, and now the mortgage loan modification scams used to target struggling homeowners in foreclosure. Then she asked if any participant had received calls for extended auto warranties. Every hand was raised and all began complaining about receiving calls regarding auto warranty 3 to 5 times a day. Many participants have started to receive similar calls on their cell phones. Williams shared with the audience how the calls are being used as scare tactics to get consumers to purchase warranties. Calls are being placed at random to anyone with a telephone number, and the caller has no idea if the person being called even owns a car or already has a warranty in place. Williams shared that her 86-year-old mother who hasn’t had a car in 25 years, received a call and was told that her car would be repossessed if she didn’t purchase the warranty. As Williams was about move on to another scam, the speakerphone in the training room begins to ring. At first shocked, then confused as to why the phone was ringing in the middle of a workshop, the audience begin to chant, “Answer it, answer it, and answer it!” Williams push the speaker button and said, “Hello this is Linda.” The room shook with laughter when participants heard the recorded messages state, “The warranty on your car has expired; this is your last opportunity to purchase an extended warranty. Please press one to speak with one of our specialist.” Participants begin chanting and pounding on their tables, “Press one, press one, and press one!” Williams pressed one, and after a few seconds, a specialist who identified himself as Brian asked with whom he was speaking. Williams replied, “You called me. Are you telling me you don’t know who you called?” Brian said, “No—what is your name?” Williams then asked what the called was about. Brian told Williams that she was driving around without warranty insurance, and it was not safe to do so. Williams told Brain her name, and then she informed him that she worked with Consumer Action and was in the middle of a training on scams. Williams then informed him that he was on a speaker phone, and the class was listening to the call. The participants cheered and clapped—one shouted Got ya! Williams thanked Brian for call and in helping her to making the participants in the class consumer savvy and MoneyWise.


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