At the April 23rd general meeting of Merced AARP, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II deviated from his planned talk on scams of seniors to express concern for last year’s 29 deaths by murder in Merced County. The District Attorney noted that while 29 murders is fewer than the 53 recorded in Fresno County in 2013, the per capita rate of murders for Merced County’s population of 260,000 is much higher, about the highest in the state.
District Attorney Morse said that the majority of murders occurred within a gang population that numbers about 5,000 members. The seniors in attendance were horrified by the large number of gang members. To calm the crowd, the District Attorney noted that a substantial number of gang members are thought to be inactive.
Mr. Morse noted that 70 percent of all prisoners locked up in the California penal system are high school drop outs. Drop outs are also 5 times more likely to end up on public assistance programs than high school graduates. He stressed that the community is best served by an educational system that can keep children in school until high school graduation.
A new program has been implemented at U.C. Merced to discourage gang membership. U.C. Merced students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are recruited to visit local middle schools to talk to 8th grade students about their personal experiences. Because the U.C. students are not much older than the 8th graders, they can relate their experiences easily. The goal is to tell the middle school students that they should stay in school at least until high school graduation and to instill in students the idea that they can be successful if they work hard in school.
District Attorney Morse is optimistic that the program will work to reduce the number of young people joining gangs, the numbers of crimes committed by gangs and the number of murders that are a consequence of gang activity.
The second half of District Attorney Morse’s presentation was about scams against citizens. He noted that scams are crimes of opportunity. Whenever citizens let down their guard, they are vulnerable to scams. Because the scams make money, they proliferate. A scam can fail nine out of ten times, but the one successful time makes it worth continuing. Scams can be difficult to prosecute, especially when the scam originates outside of the United States.
The most common scam is identity theft. It is an insidious problem that is extremely difficult to combat. Once identity is stolen, the problem spreads throughout one’s financial assets. District Attorney Morse said that a common means of theft is via the smart phone. He said that Starbucks and other public businesses with WiFi may not be secure places to use electronic equipment as hackers may lurk nearby to hack the device the victim is using. Another method of identity theft is to break into pay-at-the-pump machines at gas stations and steal credit card information contained in the memory of the pump. The mechanisms store credit card data for a day or two.
Real estate scams were very common last decade. Mortgage related scams are still a big problem, but law enforcement has been aggressively prosecuting swindlers.
Other common scams include the phone call telling a senior that his grandson is in trouble overseas and needs money. Often, the money is sent by the victim without verifying the call. Mr. Morse invoked former President Ronald Reagan’s motto, “Trust, but verify,” before disbursing money. Another phone scam is to tell a senior he has won a large sum of money or a cruise, but has to pay money to claim the prize.
Note: Merced AARP Chapter 282 meets the 4th Wednesday of the month at the Merced Senior Center, 15th and O Streets in Merced. The organization has a guest speaker each month on a wide range of topics. The public is invited.
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II is running for reelection unopposed in 2014.