Wilk, Valladares host cyber fraud webinar

State Sen. Scott Wilk, left, and Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares. Signal file photo.

The offices of state Sen. Scott Wilk and Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez Valladares hosted a “Cyber Fraud & Other Scams Webinar” on Friday in partnership with the Department of Financial Protection & Innovation.  

The webinar was organized with oversight of state-licensed financial service institutions, products and professionals, credit reporting agencies, debt collectors, rent-to-own contracts and others. Representatives from Rep. Mike Garcia’s office, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and the California Department of Insurance also participated. 

The webinar opened with messages from Valladares and Wilk in which the Santa Clarita Republican legislators pointed out the need to spread awareness about trending and scams, especially online monetary fraud, identity theft, phone scams and other financial online services.  

Wilk said that in today’s age where our lives are intertwined with virtual space, it is crucial to equip people with information to help them make the right decisions. Valladares said that awareness about online fraud is one of the many ways that the community can be protected. She said the goal of every person should be to keep their information and money safe.  

Financial scams come in different forms, both online and offline. Pandemic-inspired frauds include telephone scams targeting older citizens, requesting Social Security information, credit card information, financial relief and utility information. Trending scams are charity- and disaster-related. 

Millions of Californians have reportedly fallen prey to these frauds, making it important to understand the nature and methods that are used to carry out these crimes, and to beware of tools to protect financial information, according to a prepared statement from the legislators. 

Los Angeles City Councilman John Lee said it’s important to educate yourself about these scams. He said people shouldn’t share any sensitive or personal information with someone they don’t know. Trusted institutions, he added, don’t ask for personal information randomly. “Inform yourself about the ways scammers trick you.” 

Lt. Marcus Phillips and Sgt. Mike Marino from the SCV Sheriff’s Station said that police take online frauds very seriously. They said that if anyone has been a victim of scams, they should immediately call law enforcement, who will take their case as far as their jurisdiction allows. Many times, Marino said, the suspects are out of state and country, which makes it harder to track them down. 

Sally Westlake from the California Department of Insurance and Jackie Wiley from the DFPI presented the nature and scope of online scams and how to avoid the trap. They pointed out various initiatives by the respective departments – covering awareness about predatory practices through presentations and educational publications. An informed and educated person, they said, is less likely to fall victim to these scams. 

Wiley said that home buyers must check the license of both the contractor and the lender, before signing the contract for a new home. She added that appealing services like new solar panels and upgrades have higher rates of fraud. “Something like an unsolicited knock at the door,” could be dangerous, she said. 

Wiley also talked about the bogus and copycat websites intended to copy actual sites.  

“Especially after the pandemic there’s a lot of online activity, especially shopping.” She said that it’s important to have an extra layer of protection on phones and other gadgets. “Do not respond to the text message and immediately call your financial institution to track the transaction,” she added. 

Loneliness and isolation force people to get comfort from other measures, which can lead to online scams. Online romance scams especially target seniors who are excited to be a part of online technology, but it comes with a lot of risks. “Ask a lot of questions,” she added. 

The presenters encouraged people to contact the FBI right away if they think they’ve been victims of identity theft. The takeaway: Trust your instinct and never give out personal information. 

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