BOULDER, Colo. –
Boulder-area reports of fraud and other white-collar crimes have more than doubled since 2006, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and a Boulder County official said local knowledge about how to spot and report the crimes might, in part, be behind that surge.
Last year, residents in the Boulder County area filed 1,739 complaints of fraud and related crimes to a variety of federal agencies and consumer groups like the FTC, Better Business Bureau and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, according to an annual FTC report. That’s 616 complaints per 100,000 people and ranks Boulder 15th out of hundreds of U.S. metropolitan areas with populations over 100,000.
In 2006, Boulder-area residents made 857 complaints of fraud or similar crimes, ranking it 23rd. That means fraud complaints out of the Boulder area have more than doubled in two years. The area’s identity theft reports also have risen from 2006 to 2008, and Cynthia Taylor, director of the consumer division for the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, said her office has seen evidence of that spike.
“We definitely have experienced a big surge,” Taylor said. “And computer fraud is far and away the most prevalent kind.”
The knowledge that many Boulder-area residents have about how to report fraud and identify theft, and the awareness that they should, might explain the community’s high ranking in the FTC report, Taylor said.
“People are outraged that this is continuing in such great numbers,” she said, “and they want to be a part of doing something about ending it.”
But it’s not just awareness that’s increasing, Taylor said. More scams are popping up daily, and she said Boulder residents might be targeted more than people in other communities because scams often are conducted over e-mail.
“And we use the Internet more often and in greater numbers,” she said.
That’s why it’s crucial to keep out fraudulent e-mails by updating computers with the latest spam-blocking technology, Taylor said. According to the FTC report, most of the 2008 fraud complaints — 52 percent — refer to e-mail or Internet scams.
“There are highly-skilled people perpetrating the scams,” she said.
Colorado, last year and in 2007, ranked No. 1 in the nation in fraud reports per capita. In identity-theft reports, the state ranked 10th last year, and Boulder ranked 108th out of several hundred communities. That was a 12 percent increase over the 338 identity theft cases reported in Boulder in 2006, according to the FTC.
Boulder mother Terri Finley, who said she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a family friend of 20 years in a homegrown Ponzi scheme, said she’s not surprised by Boulder’s high rankings and increasing reports.
“I think it would have to do with a higher concentration of wealthier people — people who can afford to invest,” she said.
Finley said she believes the most trustworthy people are taken advantage of in fraud and identify-theft schemes.
“It’s a sad situation,” Finley said, adding that she and her husband are now less trusting of everyone. “It’s had a very, very negative impact on our lives.”
Taylor, with the District Attorney’s Office, said many identity theft and fraud cases, like Finley’s, involve people who either know one another or are related.
“It’s family members who have access to relatives’ personal information,” she said. “And one of the biggest areas is the financial exploitation of elders.”
Taylor said she believes Boulder has more elder-exploitation cases because Boulder has an aging population with plenty of resources.
“A lot of Boulder citizens have resources, and some of the younger family members feel entitled or feel they can get away with it,” she said. “I think there are a lot of people affected by the economy and greed.”
District Attorney Stan Garnett, after taking office as the county’s new top prosecutor in January, vowed to make economic fraud and identity theft a greater focus. As part of that effort, the District Attorney’s Office has launched an “economic and business crimes unit” to be headed by Assistant District Attorney Chris Zenisek.
He said the unit, launched about one month ago, works closely with Taylor’s consumer-protection unit to identify criminal fraud reports and prosecute them.
“It’s an important item for the district attorney,” Zenisek said. “He wants to make sure we’re giving these cases the proper level of attention.”