Annual ‘No Scam November’ Initiative Returns

OCEAN CITY – For the third straight year, allied law enforcement agencies have launched the “No Scam November” initiative in response to a growing number of fraud cases in the area often targeting the elderly.

The Worcester County Vulnerable Adult Task Force this week announced the continued efforts of its multi-disciplinary team to educate and raise awareness about common fraud schemes with its third annual No Scam November initiative. The focus of the initiative is preventing scams before they cause financial damage to the victim, given the inherent difficulties in the investigation and identification of high-tech scammers and attempts to recover victims’ money.

New this year to the initiative is an Elder Fraud partnership with Salisbury University’s accounting department students, who will assist law enforcement with education and awareness efforts for senior citizens throughout Worcester County, particularly those whom police have reason to believe are targets of financial scams.

The partnership between the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Salisbury University has already secured federal grant funding of nearly $2 million, which will give law enforcement access to new and proprietary software used to track fraud and scam trends, analyze and assess financial data, and identify potential victims earlier.

Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser said the addition of a certified fraud examiner to her investigative team in 2021 has significantly increased the resources being devoted to the growing problem of elder abuse, and she highlighted the Salisbury University partnership as another creative initiative critical to scam prevention.

“My office works closely with all agencies involved in preventing, identifying and reporting financial scams involving senior citizens,” she said. “Our local banks, as mandated reporters of suspected financial abuse, are doing an excellent job making law enforcement aware of situations causing concern, and law enforcement conducts a thorough investigation of every suspected scam.”

Heiser said education and outreach are key components of the “No Scam November” initiative, and throughout the year.

“Our victim advocates ensure the victims are given the resources, information and assistance they need to avoid future victimization,” she said. “We are hopeful that the additional resources provided to law enforcement as a result of the Elder Fraud partnership will enable us to proactively identify, charge and prosecute even more scam cases in the future.”

Local law enforcement continues to see an increase in the number of reported fraud cases, and senior citizens have been the most frequent target. In Worcester County, the most common types of fraud currently being reported are gift card scams. Scammers have been targeting victims either by phone or email, often claiming there is an emergency situation the victim must buy gift cards to resolve.

The scammer typically then requests the code on the back of the gift card so it can be used online. The scammer may claim to be with the IRS or claim that a family member of the victim has been arrested and needs bail money. In another common scam, the victim is told they have won a contest or prize money, but in order to collect their winnings, they must buy gift cards totaling a small portion of the larger prize they will eventually be sent by the scammer. Many times, the scammer stays on the phone with the victim while he or she travels to the store to purchase the gift cards. That way, the scammer can make sure the fraud is successful and that the victim cannot pause to reconsider whether they should actually go through with the purchase. Again, those types of scams often target the elderly, or those most vulnerable in the community.

To combat the described gift card scams, throughout the month of November, the Maryland State Police, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and the Ocean Pines Police Department will be conducting community outreach efforts and providing local businesses with free signage provided by the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office. The signs can be attached to any gift card display case.

The warning signs are designed to shake would-be victims into realizing and recognizing the scam in the moment, especially if they are still on the phone with the scammer. The signs encourage potential victims to press the pause button and exercise caution before making a purchase.

New this year, the signs will display a QR code that links the public to even more information on scams from reliable online sources. The signs, along with outreach by prosecutors and law enforcement, will also help local businesses to educate their staff on how to recognize the signs of a gift card scam before ringing up the victim’s purchase and to contact police whenever they suspect a scam.

The signs are adorned with the message “Never send gift cards to someone you don’t know personally. Reputable companies never ask for payment in gift cards.” Businesses wishing to participate in No Scam November can request their free gift card scam signage from the Maryland State Police Berlin Barrack, the Ocean Pines Police Department or the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is another example of how we partner in Worcester County to proactively protect our residents,” said Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli. “These collaborative efforts are a great benefit to our county.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.