Since launching an anti-fraud squad a year ago, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover has recovered nearly $1 million for local victims of housing, internet and financial scams.

“Fraud attracts certain minds. It’s so different from prosecuting violent crime,” Conover said at a meeting of Democrats of Greater Tucson. “These prosecutors and investigators and staff get boxes and boxes of historical paperwork. And they’ve got to go through it with a fine-tooth comb to look for the patterns. ‘Follow the money’ is an easy phrase to use, but it’s hard work.”

The Consumer Fraud Unit has 30 investigators, prosecutors and detectives who are currently working on 50 active cases. They aim to protect retired people, who are often targets of scams, from wage theft, financial crimes, insurance and banking, environmental and housing, and even government and Medical fraud cases.

“They’re about to hit the $1 million mark already in restitution for fraud victims, Conover said. “We also did over a dozen fraud presentations all over assisted living facilities, neighborhood associations, especially focusing on the elder community.”

Deputy County Attorney Nicholas Spare and others within the Criminal Division help educate community organizations or neighborhood associations on how to avoid being a victim of fraud. Email fraud@pcao.pima.gov to arrange a presentation.

Consumers can easily report a swindle by using an online form. “The Pima County Attorney (PCAO) can now review your complaints and collaborate with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to help protect your finances,” she said.

The federal government and the state attorney general pursue mega-dollar nationwide frauds. “We want to be the place where even low-dollar scams and frauds could be looked at because $300 can make or break a family.”

Tips to Avoid Being Defrauded

“Anytime a stranger is asking for money, slow the process down,” advises Pima County Attorney Laura Conover.

Fraud costs residents of Pima County $2.1 million per year. Currently, there is a “huge uptick” in home improvement or home repair fraud – where the con artists ask for all the money in advance and then disappear. In addition, scammers are “going door to door offering services. They may say something like ‘we’re already in the neighborhood working on a project,'” Conover said.

In a video, Conover offered tips to avoid being a victim of fraud:

  • Be skeptical of strangers who claim there are calling from the government or your bank, asking for money. “It usually starts with a pop-up message while your online, or an email, or a phone call,” she says.
  • Fake merchants will say they unexpectedly sent a refund that was more than you expected and ask you to send your own money back to them. “This usually comes from a stranger, but it can be very persuasive because it’s impersonation,” she said.
  • Scammers create a sense of false urgency, “but it’s important to slow it down and figure out who is actually contacting you.”
  • Beware of strangers on social media asking to be friends with you.
  • Always check references before you send any money.
  • If you have a gut instinct, you have to go with your doubt and tell the caller you need to look into the proposition more.

To learn more about how you can avoid fraud on the internet, phone and in-person, visit pcao.pima.gov/fraud.