Sept. 18, 2002                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

State Auditor's Office offers fraud prevention information

      Montana consumers lost more than $40 million dollars last year to swindlers and con artists who took advantage of them. Many victims lost their hard-earned dollars to affinity fraud
      Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, including religious, elderly or professional groups. Con artists convince investors to participate in a scam by exploiting the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have an interest in common.
      Scams targeting religious communities are a serious problem in Montana. State Auditor John Morrison's office has investigated many scams involving hundreds of victims.
      "These scams are based on trust and may involve a member of the group," Morrison said. "It often is difficult to identify an affinity scam and prosecute the perpetrators."
      Morrison said victims often are hesitant to contact authorities and try to work things out within the group.
      "I encourage victims to contact our office," Morrison said. "They can help prevent other Montanans from becoming victims."
      The best defense against fraud is education, Morrison said. A representative of the State Auditor's office will present a program on How to Protect Yourself Against Fraud Oct. 7 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church, 301 4th Ave. E. For more information, contact Dave Anson at 883-5807 or Janet Harper in the State Auditor's Office at 1-800-332-6148.