W.Va. officials promote scam awareness

PARKERSBURG – The offices of West Virginia’s attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer all post information online aimed at helping residents avoid fraud and take care of their money.

On Tuesday, the holders of each of those offices came to Parkersburg to directly address those topics with about 150 area AARP members during “Operation Scam Jam” held at the Blennerhassett Hotel.

“Sometimes information, when it’s presented right in front of you, it sticks a little bit more,” Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said. “The folks here are now going to tell family members.”

Protecting against scams was the featured topic of the event, an activity of West Virginia Money Smart Week, which is part of a multistate campaign by the Federal Reserve Bank to promote financial literacy. Activities have been held the last five years at different locations around the state.

Tennant was joined at the Blennerhassett by Auditor Glen Gainer, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Treasurer John Perdue for a panel discussion to close the day on Tuesday afternoon.

Harrisville resident Bill Maze said he thought the whole day was an informative experience.

“You can hear a lot of it on TV, but it’s not like being in a meeting where you can hear the perspective of different people,” he said.

Morrisey told those gathered in the hotel’s Charleston ballroom that promotion or sweepstakes scams are the top consumer-protection issue his office deals with, yielding about 1,000 complaints in 2013. About 40 of his office’s 200 employees work on consumer protection issues, and they field anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 complaints a year that they investigate, negotiate and in some cases take legal action over.

“It’s critical that folks educate themselves up front before engaging in any transactions,” Morrisey said. “It’s much easier to stop something before it occurs than to chase down the scammer, who may be 5,000 miles away.”

The attorney general’s website, www.wvago.gov, includes releases about scams being reported around the state and resources for people to file consumer complaints.

“We literally see a new scam in the state of West Virginia every day,” Morrisey said.

Gainer, a Parkersburg resident, said he’s never been to a public event like Tuesday’s without hearing from someone who was a victim of fraud. Two such people approached him at the Blennerhassett.

“If you do believe you’ve been the victim of a fraud, please, please feel free to reach out to us,” Gainer said.

The auditor’s office provides education on Internet scams. Gainer serves as the commissioner of securities for the state, which oversees investment brokers and firms and can let people know if an individual or company is properly registered or has faced disciplinary action.

Tennant said her office investigates fraudulent charities. More than 2,600 charitable organizations are registered with her office, and people can look up information on them at wvsos.com. That includes a breakdown of how much money goes to the cause the charity is supporting, the organization’s administrative costs and the fundraiser.

“Obviously you want the higher number to be the one that’s going … to help the cause,” Tennant said.

Legitimate charities will answer people’s questions about them and how they use the money, while scammers will be evasive, she said.

Perdue discussed some of his office’s responsibilities, including the Smart 529 college savings plan, and the return of unclaimed property to residents. The latter could be an opportunity scammers try to exploit, he said.

“It’s free. You don’t have to pay to (get) your unclaimed property,” Perdue said.