By Brittany Wallman
Marjory Lyons is a former educator who writes books. She’s 87. She’s smart, and accomplished.
But for a few moments one recent afternoon when scam artists came calling, she said, “I was stupid.”
Her story and others like it are the inspiration for a new fraud protection program one Broward commissioner is launching next week.
Commissioner Mark Bogen, an attorney, said he wants to fashion himself as the “consumer commissioner,” a version of what Public Defender Howard Finkelstein famously does with his “Help Me Howard” persona.
The program is a bit unorthodox in that it’s going to be operated out of a commissioner office — rather than in the non-political bureaucratic arena — and some may see it as a political ploy.
Bogen said he’ll help anyone, even those who can’t vote for him when he’s on the ballot next, in 2018.
“I don’t think government is doing enough for the consumer,” Bogen said. “We have numerous resources to protect people from losing their life savings, property, identity. If they call my office, I can help them.”
South Florida has been called the organized fraud capital of America, with scams about fake lottery winnings, bogus IRS liens and phony credit card alerts like the one Lyons was targeted with.
Lyons believed the caller who claimed to be from her bank and told her that her credit card had been used by a stranger. The caller mentioned Lyons’ son, Michael, though she got his last name wrong.
Had Lyons charged $1,200 at Home Depot? Had she charged $600 at Macy’s? What was her credit card number? Could she hand her credit card over to a bank representative who was on the way over? A suspect was trying to use her card “right now,” and police were holding him, she was told.
“I was frantic. I was responding,” Lyons said. ” … I was crazy. My dog needed to go out. Everything was happening.”
She called her son, who rushed over. But not before a woman appeared at the door and took her credit card. By the time her son reported the crime, $4,000 had been swiped from her bank accounts. Eventually she got the money back, but she tried to warn others.
Bogen is sending out a mailing next week about his program. Those who need help because they’ve been scammed or suspect someone is trying to defraud them can call 954-357-7002.