Fraud, ID theft reports rise in Ohio, Dayton region: What you should know

Ohio consumers lost more than $85 million to fraud last year, and the state and Dayton region saw explosive growth in identity theft reports and large increases in fraud reports, according to this newspaper’s analysis of data from the Federal Trade Commission.

“It is reprehensible that scammers are preying on people during this pandemic by pretending to be someone they can trust,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in statement late last year.

Last year, the FTC received fraud reports from nearly 70,000 consumers across Ohio, including about 7,430 in the Dayton metro region, which includes Montgomery, Miami and Greene counties.

Compared to 2020, fraud reports originating from the Dayton region increased 22%, while reports statewide climbed 14%.

Ohio consumers were conned out of $26.2 million more last year than they were in 2020, a 44% increase. The losses due to fraud were more than twice as much as in 2019.

In December, two Dayton residents were sentenced to four to five years in prison for criminal conspiracy charges tied to fraud and theft.

Myrtle Lynn Jackson and Joshua Dylan Chapman stole victims’ personal information from homes, vehicles and mailboxes and fraudulently applied for personal loans, student loans, unemployment benefits, credit cards, debit cards and checks, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

The fraudsters used some of their ill-gotten gains to buy drugs, rent motel rooms, shop at local stores and gamble at the casino.

ID theft reports nearly doubled in Ohio last year, according to the FTC, and they increased 86% in the Dayton region.

Two months ago, a 59-year-old Mexican national was sentenced to about a year in prison for stealing the identity of a disabled U.S. veteran.

Fernando Arroyo-Alonso was arrested in Warren County in May 2021 for misusing a Social Security number after applying for Social Security benefits using the disabled veteran’s fraudulently obtained birth certificate and Social Security card, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Arroyo-Alonso also used the victim’s identity, date of birth and Social Security number to get an Ohio driver’s license in the victim’s name.

A Dayton woman last year was sentenced to prison after stealing and misusing someone’s Social Security number and information to steal his pension benefits.

A Trotwood woman last spring was sentenced to six months in prison for fraudulently collecting $223,000 in Social Security payments and $1,200 in stimulus funds that were made to her deceased brother.

Distrust the callers

Imposter scams were the most common type of fraud complaint last year across the state and the Dayton region, and the FTC says scammers have tried to capitalize on shifts in the economy stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scammers have sent Ohioans fake emails about stimulus checks, refunds and COVID-19 relief funds, the FTC said.

“At the same time we’re all fighting the spread of the virus, we unfortunately also have to fight the spread of fraudsters who hinder our economic recovery,” Acting U.S. Attorney Vipal Patel said in a statement last year.

Impersonators often try to trick consumers into thinking they work for a legitimate government agency or business so they can phish for information to steal people’s identities or their money.

About 44% of Americans have encountered a government imposter scam, according to a survey, and callers commonly pretend to be officials from agencies like the IRS, the Social Security Administration, Health and Human Services, the U.S. Treasury and the FBI or law enforcement.

Some scammers use fear and intimidation to try to scare people into making payments or sharing valuable personal or financial information, threatening legal action or jail time.

“Government impersonators typically assert an air of authority to stage their scam,” the FTC said. “These impersonators sometimes threaten their target with severe consequences such as a discontinuation of benefits, enforcement of tax liability, and even arrest or prosecution.”

The FTC also said government impersonators also sometimes promise government grants, prizes or loan forgiveness, or try to fool consumers into paying for services that would otherwise be free.

Community members can report scams and fraud to the FTC, the Ohio Attorney General’s office or the local Better Business Bureau —the BBB of Dayton and Miami Valley.

BBB sees reported scams drop

BBB of Dayton and Miami Valley saw a significant drop in reported scams last year, but consumers have several reporting options, said John North, president and CEO of the organization.

In 2020 and 2021, common scams reported to the BBB of Dayton and Miami Valley included phishing and online purchasing, North said, and other prevalent types involved sweepstakes and lotteries, employment and government grants.

Scammers have been very active during the COVID-19 pandemic because they have tried to exploit interest in COVID-relief programs and stimulus assistance.

Some consumers received calls, emails and other messages from people falsely claiming to work for the U.S. Treasury, offering COVID-19 related grants or stimulus payments in exchange for personal financial information, fees or gift cards.

Community members should be very careful not to share personal identifying information with others, and they should not send money to people or businesses they do not know, North said.

Many people get in trouble because they click on links, attachments or sites from unknown or not trustworthy sources, giving scammers access to their devices and personal information, he said.

Ohioans need to be cautious while shopping online, and hard-to-believe prices on products online usually are indeed too good to be true, North said.

“You need to guard your personal information ... with your life,” he said. “That is your financial footprint, and someone getting a hold of it can do a lot of damage.”

North also recommended that consumers not answer phone calls from unknown callers, because legitimate callers usually will leave voicemails .

Community members should always verify who they are speaking to on the phone, and they should not give out personal identifying information over the phone to strangers, said Greg Flannagan, a spokesman with the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s office.

Community members should be wary of people going door-to-door asking for donations for causes like storm relief, he said, and community members who are solicited by phone should ask callers to send written materials about the charity.

Other tips include:

  • When ordering checks, have them mailed to your bank. Criminals could steal checks from your mailbox.
  • Monitor new credit card arrivals, monthly credit card statements and bank statements coming in the mail.
  • Shred materials with important account information or your identifiers. Criminals can look through trash bins for credit applications, cancelled checks or other bank records.
  • Do not put your address, social security number, driver’s license number or phone number on your checks.

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