OGDEN — Scammers, beware.
Avoiding schemes was the main point of discussion during the Financial Fraud Institute, which took place Thursday evening in Ogden.
A number of state and federal resources spoke at the event, which took place inside Commission Chambers at the Weber Center. Dozens of eager citizens attended the event, asking questions and taking notes.
The event began with keynote speaker Judge Paul M. Warner, chief magistrate of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Warner kicked off the seminar with a few stories of his past experiences while on the bench and serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.
Warner said he teaches a class on white collar crime at the BYU law school, and while he couldn’t teach the whole class in a night, he did share some key pointers he teaches to law students.
“If a deal is too good to be true, you’re dealing with amateurs,” Warner said.
He went on to say that the two most prevalent types of fraud in Utah are Ponzi schemes and affinity fraud. Warner said that just because someone is offering you an investment opportunity and they are in your church ward, doesn’t mean you should automatically trust them.
Warner encouraged investors to do their do-diligence when vetting a broker, even if you know the person from a club, church or other organization.
Many of the speakers at the event echoed Warner’s advice. The first panel at the event centered on investor fraud, while the second focused on consumer fraud.
Daniel Wadley, regional director for the Securities and Exchange Commission office in Salt Lake City, said the best thing potential investors can do is to find out the broker is reputable before making an investment.
Ruth Hackford-Peer, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Utah, added that many people are inclined not to ask questions in general, but when it comes to your money, you should be asking as many questions as possible. If someone says there’s little to no risk in an investment, they’re lying, she said.
Thomas Brady, division director for the Utah Division of Securities, said that cases of fraud are on the rise in Utah, and many of the complaints his office fields are regarding cryptocurrency and medical marijuana investment schemes.
The speakers shared many of the resources they encourage potential investors to use before putting their money on the line. One such tool is going to http://utfraud.com; the website is ran by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, and shows a registry of everyone who has been convicted of state fraud charges.
David Sonnenreich, who works for the Attorney General’s Office, says doing the little things like using a credit card instead of checks, can make you less susceptible to being the victim of stolen identity and fraud.
Panelists from the second part of the seminar said that phone scams are on the rise, and said government agencies will never demand immediate payment over the phone via wire transactions or pre-paid cards.
Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, said he has known a woman for years who lost over $90,000 from a fraud scheme.
He encouraged investors to be skeptical, ask questions and look for holes in a fraudster’s story. Never give out credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone, he said.
FBI supervisory special agent Michael Pickett, who heads the white collar crime program at the bureau’s Salt Lake City office, said he received a scam call recently. He stated that he knew the man was a scammer and tried to keep a conversation. He asked the man on the other side of the line if he felt bad scamming people out of money, to which the man said he didn’t, and was paid by the hour while working at a call center outside the United States.
Pickett, who grew up in Utah, said the Wasatch Front has one of the highest per-capita rates of white collar crime in the country. He said people in Utah are trusting, which makes them a target.
Jared Robbins, supervisory special agent for the IRS office in Salt Lake City, said the IRS, or any law enforcement agency, will never demand payment over the phone. He said that if you’re skeptical about someone saying they’re with a government agency, hang up the phone and go to the office directly.