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“If you leave here tonight without learning how to make a quick $15,000 or so, you haven’t been paying attention,” Tom F. Polhemus of the Fairfax County Police Financial Crimes Unit told audience members of a police seminar on how to avoid financial scams at Annandale High School Oct. 10.

The multilingual event was sponsored by the Annandale Roundtable, Korean American Association of Virginia, Legal Aid Justice Center and the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, in partnership with the Fairfax County Police Department.

According to police, the Fairfax County Police Department investigates more than 4,000 financial crimes a year locally, and they are among the fastest-growing crimes in the nation.

“No matter what your ethnicity, financial status or your neighborhood, it can happen to you,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross (D) during the seminar. “My husband is an attorney and we are both college educated and we fell for it.”

Gross said she and her husband were home on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago when they received a phone call. “It was someone who said they were with the fraud department of Bank of America and were calling about our bank account. It didn’t occur to us until much later that the fraud department would not call my home on a Saturday afternoon when banks were closed.”

Gross said that after giving out sensitive bank account information to the caller, she later saw a check for $500 listed in a bank statement that she had not written. “If it happened to me, it can happen to you,” she told the audience.

“Scammers can take you in ways you never thought of,” added Polhemus, saying that police consistently see cases in which scammers check residential mailboxes looking for pre-approved credit card applications which they then take and fill out.

“They will fill them out with your address and then wait for them and take them out of your mailbox when they arrive,” he said. “You won’t even know they were ever issued.”

According to Polhemus, scammers will then charge as much as possible on the card, and use a check from another stolen account to pay it off at the end of the month.

“Why would they do that?’ he asked the crowd. “Because they know the credit card company will then increase the credit amount,” he said. “And then they can charge even more, and start all over again and again, until they eventually decide to stick you with an enormous bill that you won’t see coming.”

Polhemus said the best way to safeguard against this is to opt out of receiving pre-approved credit applications altogether. “You can do that by calling 888-567-8688,” he said. “And then go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get free annual copies of your credit report. If you see a card you don’t recognize, question it!”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com