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Scammers Defraud Small-Biz Owner in Arrest Warrant Scam

Criminals lie about a man’s PPP loan

spinner image a man is running away from an outline of a police officer inside a glowing red smartphone

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The pandemic is tough for Victor’s small business, but the loan he receives from the Paycheck Protection Program is a lifeline. Years later, he receives a call from someone claiming to be from the sheriff’s office. The caller says Victor's loan application has been flagged as fraudulent and he must pay the money back right away or face arrest. Victor doesn’t realize that his loan information is public and easily accessible to scammers, who use it to their advantage.

spinner image infographic quote that reads: "I'm greeted by a person identifying himself as a Wake County Sheriff's officer, and that a warrant had been issued for my arrest. He says my PPP loan application was flagged as fraudulent."
Full Transcript


[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] Victor Font: EMS works so closely with police and fire that it's almost like a universal brotherhood, you know of shared experiences. And you learn the lingo, you learn how to talk to people who you work with that closely, and I really believed I was talking to police officers because they answered me like any other police officer would have that I might have worked with in the past.


[00:00:32] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. It's really easy to find personal information about anyone and everyone these days. You've probably heard a lot about data breaches at big companies. I mean if you've never googled yourself, you should probably do that right now. But you might be surprised to find there are plenty of other sources where criminals can find out information about you that they can use to invent a very believable story that leads to a perfect scam. And one of those sources can be Uncle Sam. Victor Font has enjoyed a long career in information technology, first in New Jersey, and then in North Carolina. In fact, he's even written a book called The Cybersecurity Primer. He's spent a lifetime making people aware of the risks they face online, and that's why he was floored by what happened to him earlier this year. But before we get to that, I want you to know something else about Victor that makes him special.

[00:01:37] Victor Font: I was an EMT. I was part of the New Jersey paramedical pilot program. I was one of the first 500 paramedics to graduate from the New Jersey State Department of Health Training Program. Uh, we got paramedicine started but before you can enter the paramedic program, the law back then was that you had to work as a volunteer EMT for at least one year and have it, all your hours documented. So I did my volunteer time in Union City Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

[00:02:09] Bob: What attracted you to doing this?

[00:02:11] Victor Font: I've always had an interest in medicine. In fact, I had enrolled at St. Peter's College between high school and college, I was enrolled at in the Premed Program at St. Peter's, and my father had a stroke right after graduation, high school graduation, and I didn't have a choice. I had to drop out of college and go to work to take care of my family.

[00:02:33] Bob: So ever since that moment you, since you were in high school, you wanted to be involved in medicine in some way, and this was a way to scratch that itch, right?

[00:02:41] Victor Font: Exactly.

[00:02:42] Bob: I don't know if you've ever known someone who works as an EMT. It's quite a calling. They rush out whenever anyone needs help in urgencies. They work under tremendous pressure, and they often do it with little or no sleep.

[00:02:59] Victor Font: Well, back then, we were part of the pilot program. There weren't a lot of medics. I had two fulltime jobs. I worked at Jersey City Medical Center fulltime, and I worked at Clara Maass Medical Center fulltime because there weren't enough paramedics in the state to fill all the roles. So it was Belleville, Clara Maass, I worked the 11-7 shift and then I would drive to Jersey City and work 8-4.

[00:03:25] Bob: When did you sleep?

[00:03:26] Victor Font: We were actually allowed to sleep on the job if we weren't actively on a call.

[00:03:32] Bob: Oh my God, but your, your version of sleep was sleeping in the firehouse basically, right?

[00:03:36] Victor Font: Basically. It's naptime, eating meals very quickly because as soon as you sit down to eat, you're almost inevitably going to have a call to respond to. So it, it's just one of those things. It, you know, but I was young. I had a lot of energy, and uh, it worked.

[00:03:53] Bob: So you can already tell Victor is a caring person. He's also a man who takes his obligations seriously. He has a special needs brother who until recently lived with his family. And our story begins on a very difficult day for Victor. Not long after his family realized they just couldn't care for his brother at home any longer.

[00:04:17] Victor Font: This has to do with my brother. He's 10½ years younger than me. We had to put him into a group home. He lived with us for 27 years, and when his health needs became too extensive for me to be able to handle here at home, we had no choice. We put him in a group home and the only available bed in North Carolina was in Charlotte.

[00:04:38] Bob: There was a dispute with the group home about where his brother's Social Security payments should be deposited, and it dragged on and on. Victor had to spend endless hours on the phone with the Social Security Administration. Red tape is bad enough, but red tape on top of heartache is just the worst.

[00:04:59] Victor Font: I am my brother's representative payee, and I had been his representative payee since 1995, which means I have the responsibility of making his financial decisions because he's not capable of making those decisions himself. I had just come back from the bank that morning to open up another custodial account for my brother, and the bank refused to do it because they wanted to see an original award certificate from Social Security that said I was the representative payee. Now the problem with that is that I was a representative payee since 1995. That award program didn't start until the year 2000. So there's no such letter for me. And the bank wouldn't buy it. So I came home, I was trying to figure out my next steps, I was really, you know, feeling down because this shouldn't be so difficult. So I decided to chill out a little bit. I sat down in my living room. I turned on my PS5, I started playing a video game, and the phone rang...

[00:06:06] Bob: What now, Victor thinks.

[00:06:08] Victor Font: Normally, my habit is not to answer the phone unless it's for a person who's already in my contact list. But this phone number came in from Smithfield, North Carolina, and my daughter and her family live the next town over, Selma. And I was thinking, well maybe this has something to do with them, 'cause I know they go to the uh, aquatic center there for the kids, swimming lessons, whatever.

[00:06:34] Bob: So Victor picks up the phone and he could never have predicted what he heard next.

[00:06:41] Victor Font: I'm greeted by a person identifying himself as a Wake County Sheriff's officer, and that a warrant had been issued for my arrest, it's coming across his desk and, and so on and so forth.

[00:06:53] Bob: And arrest warrant? That doesn't make any sense.

[00:06:58] Victor Font: Now I didn't believe him at all at first. He, he was asking me to confirm my email address, and I said, "Why do you need me to confirm my email address? I don't understand that. And he said, "I need you to confirm the email address." "Is, is this is your email address," and he, he's yelling at me over the phone. I said, "Yeah. Now why do you want to know that for?" I shouldn't have said, yes, that that was my email address. He said, "Well look at your email." And I open my email, and I see a warrant sent to me.

[00:07:25] Bob: Victor scans the pdf attachment in his email. His eyes glaze over the two-page document. It's on court letterhead, it's got his name on it, a judge's signature, and his head starts to swim.

[00:07:39] Victor Font: I'm saying, "What is this about?" And he starts talking to me that this was my PPP loan application was flagged as fraudulent. The federal government is looking for recovery and asking the local sheriffs' departments to handle the warrants. The warrant was supposably an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court. And I said, "I have, I have no, no knowledge. I was never subpoenaed to go to court," and so on and so forth. He says, "Well, look at the warrant." And I'm reading it and, and it sure says that and, and signed by a judge. At that point I, I said, "I have no idea what this is about. What are you talking about?"

[00:08:20] Bob: What are you talking about? A PPP loan? Before we go on, let me remind you what those were. During COVID, the federal government instituted several programs to protect individuals and small businesses who lost their income. PPP loans, Paycheck Protection Program Loans, were given to companies so they could pass the money on to employees, rather than lay them off.

[00:08:44] Victor Font: I'm actually a, a single-member LLC, my business, and when PPP was available, it was not available to folks like me at the beginning because I had no employees. But towards the last two or three months of the program, there was so much money leftover in the PPP funds that the Biden Administration opened it up to sole proprietors and single-member LLCs. So I said, "Well, let me see if I can qualify," and I went through; I received $10,500 as a forgivable PPP loan. That is what they were referring to.

[00:09:25] Bob: You might recall that there have been a lot of high-profile news stories about fraud and pandemic relief programs, and in particularly the PPP loan program, so there were some aggressive efforts to investigate fraud. Victor had heard about those and he immediately worries he's somehow caught up in that, but how could that be?

[00:09:45] Victor Font: That's what they were going after. A loan that had already been forgiven and the way that you had to file that paperwork, you had to provide tax returns, you had to prove your income, and they average it for the last year, whatever it was, and I knew I couldn't imagine how it could be a fraudulent application.

[00:10:07] Bob: Victor had long ago filled out all the right paperwork and his loan had been forgiven. But the man on the other end of the phone insists he is under arrest for fraud. And he seems to know everything about Victor's loan, how much he received, the date of the loan, even the bank that issued the loan, and now he's told Victor is technically under arrest already, but there's a way to fix this problem quickly. Victor just has to pay back the loan right now.

[00:10:36] Victor Font: There's another document that he sends that they're allowed to do what they call an unaccompanied arrest and adjudication or whatever the term they used. And it meant that I had to stay on the phone with them until I went through all the gyrations of sending them the money through a bitcoin machine, and uh it, it was one of those things that you know I didn't know what to do.

[00:11:03] Bob: Victor is feeling totally overwhelmed. This conversation is even worse than the conversation he was having with the bank over his brother's Social Security payments. But something about the way this man is talking to him on the phone, he really feels like he's in big trouble.

[00:11:20] Victor Font: I worked closely with EMS. EMS works so closely with police and fire that it's almost like a universal brotherhood, you know of shared experiences. And you learn the lingo, you learn how to talk to people who you work with that closely, and I really believed I was talking to police officers because they answered me like any other police officer would have that I might have worked with in the past. As we're driving around talking, I said, "So tell me,"... um, oh, by this time they handed me over to the second guy. I got passed over to a person who identified himself as the sergeant who would talk me through the process of paying the bail and surrendering myself for processing at Wake County Sheriff's Department. As I'm on the phone, saying, "How, how many people do have in Wake County that uh have been flagged for fraudulent..." He said, "Oh, we have over 900 people." And you know what, I believe him. I think he was telling me the truth about that. And then I said, "How many people are on the phone with your right now? Are you tracking on the phone?" He said, "We have 16 people online with us right now."

[00:12:29] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:12:30] Bob: So he asks the sergeant, what does he have to do.

[00:12:34] Victor Font: So first they wanted $11,500. I said, "There's no way I can come up with that money." And they said, they put me on with the watch commander who said he can lower the amount to $5000, or 5500, or whatever it was. And I said, "Okay, that's reasonable."

[00:12:54] Bob: Victor gets in his car and follows their instructions very carefully.

[00:12:59] Bob: So you, you paid 5500. How, how did they, how did you make payment?

[00:13:02] Victor Font: They want you to go to the bank, take out cash, and then go to a bitcoin machine and submit the cash to a bitcoin wallet that they provide for you.

[00:13:12] Bob: And, and you did that before the close of business that day.

[00:13:15] Victor Font: Yes.

[00:13:17] Bob: Those instructions include a very clear warning: Do not tell anyone why you need the cash. In particular, don't tell the bank. So Victor gets the cash, goes to the bitcoin machine and makes that payment, and he thinks he's put this behind him until...

[00:13:35] Victor Font: "Oh, You just got flagged, uh it's red-flagged and we can't do this right now. You're going to have to go pay the rest of it." And it was a nightmare.

[00:13:45] Bob: So he sends the rest of the money to get to that original total, $11,500, using the same way, through a bitcoin machine, but then there's more bad news.

[00:13:56] Victor Font: And when the second one goes through, they send you a note that says, "You've been red-flagged again, uh because the payment has to be done in one lump sum."

[00:14:07] Bob: Oh goodness.

[00:14:09] Bob: He's told the court doesn't accept the combination of the two payments. He'll have to make a single payment to end the investigation, but not to worry because he'll receive a refund check for the two payments he's made.

[00:14:21] Victor Font: "You can pick it up at the US District Court Clerk's Office, and then convert it to cash and pay it all at one time." At this point, it's after 5, banks are closed. I had nothing, I, I can't do anything, and he said, "Well, the watch commander's back on the phone." He says, "Go home, keep in mind you're still under arrest. Do not get stopped by the police because you will spend the night in jail. We'll resolve this in the morning."

[00:14:45] Bob: We'll resolve it in the morning. Ugg, so Victor has to spend the entire night worrying about this, worrying about getting arrested, worrying about his brother, about his brother's finances. And he's also got just a bad sinus headache.

[00:15:00] Bob: I mean how did you sleep that night? What did you feel like?

[00:15:03] Victor Font: Anxious. I got very little sleep that night thinking about what is going on, what the, what could this possibly mean? You know we've gone through some, the pandemic was devastating, and then we had a number of serious medical life happens events in, in our family. Basically wiped us out, you know, and we were just starting to rebuild, just starting to get some cash flow running. I had to suspend my business, my IT business for two, almost two years while I took care of medical needs of family members. I had very little time to work. It was, things were just starting to turn around and starting to look good again. We were starting to get a little bit of cash flow back in. The business is starting to get some more uh recognition, then this happened and there was just a, one of those really hard blows that, that come. Uh you know it's not like I'm loaded with uh money that I could afford 11.5 going out. I, I couldn't. And that, that's been a big setback.

[00:16:09] Bob: After a long night of tossing and turning, Victor heads to court the next day to finally straighten it all out. He plans to get that refund check and make the lump sum payment and put all this behind him.

[00:16:21] Victor Font: I got up early, the US District Court in Raliegh opens at 8:30 in the morning. And I said, look, this stuff, let me go to the court. And I got up early. I was at the court at 8:30. And trying to get into a federal court these days is a TSA nightmare anyway. It's, it's the same kind of thing. When I got there, went through security, I went to the court clerk's office, and I asked if there was a check there for me? And they're looking at me and they said, "Look, you know, that's not part of our normal process. But we do get checks here on occasion." And I said, "Well I'm supposed to have a check here." "Well maybe it just hasn't been delivered yet."

[00:16:58] Bob: No check. Hmm, Victor thinks that supervisor on the phone certainly sounded confident. But something about the court clerk's voice makes him wonder. So he asks...

[00:17:10] Victor Font: "Can you please check something for me? Can you please check my name to see if it's in the court docket?" It wasn't. There was nothing. I was never, my name has never appeared on the federal court docket.

[00:17:22] Bob: Never on the docket? Oh no!

[00:17:27] Victor Font: And I started laughing. I had no other response, I started laughing.

[00:17:31] Bob: Laughing instead of crying because Victor has realized the whole thing is a lie. But the information the caller had was so real; he knew everything about the PPP loan. Well, Victor learns, he isn't alone.

[00:17:46] Victor Font: At that point, the clerk told me that they had been receiving calls for the past few days about this, and they didn't know anything about what was going on. So it was, in my mind, a relatively new scam in Raleigh.

[00:17:59] Bob: A relatively new scam; criminals armed with details about PPP loans intimidate recipients into sending fraudulent payments, claiming the now-forgiven loans must be repaid. The court clerk gives Victor some advice on what to do next.

[00:18:15] Victor Font: And I found out later that, you know, a lot of people are being affected by this. After the court clerk, she recommended that I call the US District Attorney's Office, and she actually gave me the name of the receptionist there; they, they were good friends. And she said, "Just go ask for this person. She'll tell you exactly what you need to do."

[00:18:34] Bob: So Victor calls the District Attorney's Office, he fills out a form at the internet crime complaint center, but he's told there's nothing anyone can do about the money.

[00:18:44] Bob: When your spider sense turned out to be correct, I mean you, you laughed in irony I'm sure, but tell--, tell me more about what that's like, what's that moment like?

[00:18:52] Victor Font: Well for me it was just like, I can't believe this just happened. I, I mean I was dumbfounded, especially I had done so many online cybersecurity webcasts and podcasts. I did live presentations on this stuff before the pandemic, and I've helped raise the risk awareness of, of cybercrime for thousands of people. And I got caught, and that's, to me, the irony of it, because it can happen to anyone. And as I really started thinking about who they are targeting, and the struggles that small business owners had during the pandemic, and how these PPP loans were lifelines, they literally put food on my table, I just got angry at that point. And I said, I want to do something to get this out and let people know that this is happening.

[00:19:45] Bob: So how did the criminals know so much about Victor and about all the details of his PPP loan?

[00:19:52] Victor Font: Apparently, when government money is involved government money is involved, they publish everything online. Crooks don't even have to go to the Dark Web. After this all, was all over, I did a search online and I looked up all the PPP loans that were issued during that program in my zip code. And there were hundreds and hundreds of them. And can you see the amounts, you see the bank that lent you the money, you see the date you received the money, the date it was forgiven. It's all online. US government publishes this stuff. So...

[00:20:27] Bob: So I'm, I'm actually look--, I'm looking at your, yours right now, actually and obviously we won't play any of the details, uh but I just went to the website, and here it is, date approved 2021-05-14. Does that sound right?

[00:20:42] Victor Font: That's right.

[00:20:43] Bob: Yeah, for, that's a low 5-digit number for a bank that's from a large state. Does that all sound right?

[00:20:49] Victor Font: Yep.

[00:20:50] Bob: Yeah, wow, that's remarkable. What does that feel like to suddenly look and you, you had no idea this was public information, right?

[00:20:56] Victor Font: No. I had no idea. And, and that was a shock.

[00:21:00] Bob: So, what feeling are you left with given that this money of yours has now been stolen and obviously it hurts, well what--, how do you feel about it right now?

[00:21:09] Victor Font: Well, I, it's one of those things, I mean the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. I can't do anything about recovering that money. I just have to work, and if I have to take on another part-time job or something else to make up the difference, I'm going to have to do that, and I'm 69 years old, so uh, you know, I don't have a lot of options at this point.

[00:21:28] Bob: And you were anxious to talk with us which I'm very grateful for. Teall me why.

[00:21:32] Victor Font: Why? Because you have a national audience, and because the people that are being targeted by this scam are just like me. They're folks who have been struggling through the pandemic, who have had a lot of impact because of what was going on and, and the, the loss of business and, and everything else when in person meetings stopped. And then just the fact that a lot of small business owners I know personally are in my age group. I've got folks that are doing things that in their 60s and 70s trying to just make ends meet, supplement their Social Security and so on and so forth. And it just got me angry that the most vulnerable are the ones that are being targeted. I just want people to know that these people are so professional. I had a friend who worked in um, he was a corrections officer in Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. And he told me one day that the criminals are planning 24/7 of how to get over on the guards, how to escape, how to do this, how to just be bad. Where the guards work there 8 hours a day, they go home, and they don't think about work again. Well, these criminals are as fulltime professions. They are very well-practiced, in fact, if they were in a movie, they would probably be up for Oscars or at last earn a SAG card, but they are that well-trained and uh, don't fall for it. The police are not going to tell you over the phone that there's a warrant. If it's true, they will deliver it to your home. They will subpoena you. And you just have to be aware that, you know, law enforcement procedures are very different from what these scammers do. You get anyone identifying themselves as a police officer on the phone, just hang up.

[00:23:29] Bob: You, you know what your, your friend, who worked in the prison, that, that's a really strong and fascinating piece of advice. I, I used to give talks on cybersecurity myself and I also used to have a dog and a big yard. And when I first got my dog, I didn't, I had a fence, but I didn't realize the fence was not good enough for this dog who would find a way to dig under it or whatnot, right, so I would repair that and then I would go to work. And then I'd get another call from a neighbor that he had gotten out again. And I realized same, same as you said, you know what, I have my Saturday afternoon to like look for holes in my fence, my dog had all day. He'd just walk around looking for another way to get out of the yard. And that's a lot what these criminals are like.

[00:24:08] Victor Font: That's exactly what they're like. They just want to hurt people. And they have no remorse, they have no conscience.

[00:24:14] Bob: Is there, first of all, I'm sure what you want is to warn people, uh, but I wonder if there's any advice, sort of the wisdom of hindsight that you might give to, to somebody in a situation like this.

[00:24:23] Victor Font: Yes. Absolutely do not answer your phone if they're not in your contact list. Send it to voicemail. If it's important enough for them to talk to you, they'll leave you a message.

[00:24:35] Bob: As taxpayers, we want government records to be open for inspection. But open government rules are often intentioned with the needs with private citizens to maintain their privacy. Public PPP records gave criminals fodder to attack Victor. Criminals use public records to attack the vulnerable in other ways too. To talk about this problem a little bit more, we wanted to speak with Jessica Tunon who has spent years working as an advocate for privacy rights when it comes to government records. Several years ago, Jessica was being harassed by a former romantic partner and discovered how wide her digital footprint was. When she tried getting her phone number and other personal information off the web, she discovered something very few people know. While so much attention rightly, has gone toward private companies like data brokers, government agencies also expose personal information like what happened to Victor. She then went on a 5-year crusade to do something about that, and well, we'll let her tell you what happened.

[00:25:39] Jessica Tunon: First, anything with government is very much, I don't know how you say, convoluted or...

[00:25:47] Bob: Convoluted is a good word, I think.

[00:25:48] Jessica Tunon: ...that with the information that we provide, we're not actually aware of where that goes. Whether you have a driver's license, whether you have a utility bill, or anything with a government service, we're not privy to where that information goes and how often it is shared, and why it is shared. There are disclaimers, but the disclaimers are not necessarily shared as well. And if there is a data breach or anything that happens, we're not actually aware of that as well. There are a lot of laws that are there, but not all of them are to protect us as citizens.

[00:26:34] Bob: There are plenty of government databases full of information on private citizens that can be searched. Property tax records, for example. Voting registration records.

[00:26:45] Bob: I'm just wondering what it feels like when you have made a determination that you, you want to be private and then you go online and you see Uncle Sam is exposing my personal information. What does that feel like?

[00:26:57] Jessica Tunon: That's a great question. It feels as if there's no protection.

[00:27:02] Bob: When Jessica first determined she really needed to scrub her online presence, she began to find all these places where government websites were exposing her to potential stalking. I asked her to talk about what it was like to get that information removed.

[00:27:17] Jessica Tunon: Well first, so, you know about voter registration, one I didn't realize that, and that it was made public. You know you get the, any inserts in the mail, and you're like, oh, how did they get my information? And then to actually contact them personally to find out, okay, why is that information shared? And is there an opportunity for me to unshare that? And if there, I can unshare that, what do I need to do? There's just a lot more steps than I had ever realized of something that I was not aware of, you know, once you sign up for something, the lengths you need to go to to actually get that removed and who you need to talk to.

[00:27:57] Bob: I, I can't even imagine calling, you know, Mr. Voter Registration, whoever that is, and saying, "Remove my information from a, a website please." Like were you successful at any of this?

[00:28:07] Jessica Tunon: Yes, I was actually.

[00:28:09] Bob: Real estate transaction information is public too. This is something many homebuyers come to learn the hard way.

[00:28:18] Jessica Tunon: One is that, yes, I purchased a home; however, when I purchased a home did I, was I aware of that information and where it would be shared? And they're shared between different entities. So it's not just purchasing a home, it's every single paper that goes along with purchasing a home. And you get so excited to have this, you know, opportunity to purchase something and have the financial to do that and, and then you also have to be aware of everything that goes along with it, and who else would want to know that you purchased a home and why.

[00:28:52] Bob: And I know uh, many people have had the experience of buying a piece of property, and then you get bombed, mail-bombed with spam of all sorts, you know. Um, but that's a very low-level risk. There are, there are greater risks. Can, can you help, help us understand what those greater risks might be?

[00:29:06] Jessica Tunon: The greater risks of one, your home itself and knowing where you live. Every time you do anything, that also, that information's out there and not only is it out there but then that information is sold, and you don't who know that is sold, or how often it's sold or how much information is actually there to make it easily available to others...

[00:29:30] Bob: So I think one of the points I hear you making is whatever the mechanics of government are, we need people to be aware that this information will end up in a public place because it's just not what you're thinking when you're, when you're file--, filing for a loan like Victor did.

[00:29:43] Jessica Tunon: That is very true. Yes, and oftentimes you look at government as a protector, and not necessarily for marketing or a business, and so that information that you might think is there protecting you and they are giving you that opportunity which is a wonderful opportunity having a business and then having resources to be able to continue your business and you don't realize everything else that goes along with it.

[00:30:09] Bob: So I know there was a time when you were working pretty fervently and actively on efforts to remove this kind of information both from corporate and from, from government websites. Can you talk to me about those efforts?

[00:30:20] Jessica Tunon: Yes. I talk about the effort of trying to get my information no longer made public or to no longer have, in this case a, a romantic partner message me, the lengths to go to is quite extensive by phone number, by address, by anything that's online. So whether it is a professional instance or personal, the lengths that you can go to to have your information not shared is hard and then once you perhaps reach out to companies to ask them that you don't feel safe and you want your information blocked, they may not necessarily understand your plight.

[00:31:04] Bob: Did you reach out to government agencies as well?

[00:31:06] Jessica Tunon: I did. I reached out to many agencies not realizing that government itself also shared my information. Um, I was, there's no fine line in that as well, you know once you have a, a mailbox and you do a change of address, and if you do it, instead of having it temporary you do it permanent, that information is made public, or just a home made public, or driver's license, that's made public.

[00:31:33] Bob: This all sounds so exhausting.

[00:31:35] Jessica Tunon: It has been very exhausting. And to be honest, it's government that is the one who doesn't share with you that once you sign up, you know to do a change of address, or you have a driver's license, or a utility or credit, that's not shared where that information's going and why it's going to somewhere else, you know. When you want to become a voter, the fact that that information is made public, all the things that you would not think your information was just made public is, and so that awareness changes things greatly.

[00:32:06] Bob: It certainly doesn't sound fair that you have to do all this work. You didn't ask for any of this.

[00:32:10] Jessica Tunon: No, I didn't ask for it, and not to say that I needed to even go through all this, and you know, to the extent that I did.

[00:32:17] Bob: As we're talking about it now, it seems like pretty obvious and simple that if you are say a victim of domestic violence, you don't want your address to be in public tax records, but yet you had to spend years and talk about it until the point people were sick of you talking about it in order to get something done about it which is telling to me. It's telling that I think it explains how hard it is to convince people this, there's a real problem here. Would you agree?

[00:32:41] Jessica Tunon: Yes.

[00:32:42] Bob: But Jessica didn't just complain. She learned that some states had actually passed laws protecting victims of partner violence and others from exposure by government records, so she worked to get such a law passed in Washington DC where she lives.

[00:32:58] Jessica Tunon: Yeah, that was actually one of the success stories. Uh, because of that, there was an opportunity to even have a, there was a hearing that done, um, learning about this program in Washington DC called the Address Confidentiality Program. And not realizing that, of that being confidential, because you know when you vote, there's that information is shared when you vote of, you know, where you live and your first name and last name and what party you belong to. And then to find out there was even more people who also wanted to learn all-, um, about it too. And so to have um, an opportunity to speak with my uh city council and others, not only within DC government but nonprofits and for-profits and concerned citizens like myself, but being able to learn more about what information is shared and what isn't shared and testifying about laws that, you know, could potentially protect you as well.

[00:33:54] Bob: I think you are understating your role in this just a little bit. You were a pretty prominent advocate for Washington DC to pass a new regulation requiring Address Confidentiality Programs, right?

[00:34:07] Jessica Tunon: Yes. I was one of many. I, I did testify for that, yes.

[00:34:12] Bob: What is an Address Confidentiality Program?

[00:34:15] Jessica Tunon: It's an opportunity for people who are victims, and we're going to use the word victim v. survivor, but in this case, uh, we use the word victims of um, cyberstalking or domestic violence or anything in your life that where you feel unsafe and having the opportunity to not have your information shared publicly. And a lot of it is actually through government agencies and being able to be a part of that, to sign up for that and to know that my information is not going to be shared by government agencies is, makes you feel a lot safer.

[00:34:51] Bob: Many of these laws allow victims to obscure their home address by providing an alternative dummy address for tax records, for example.

[00:34:59] Bob: Yeah, but uh, if I remember correctly, I mean you worked on this for at least five years. It must have felt great when Washington DC did this.

[00:35:05] Jessica Tunon: Oh my goodness. Can I tell you how happy? (laugh)

[00:35:07] Bob: Yes, please tell me how happy.

[00:35:08] Jessica Tunon: You can probably hear in my voice how happy I was. Um, I spent, I don't want to even share how many hours in time and how many people I spoke with within government with outside of government. Anyone who'd pretty much listen and friends of mine who no longer wanted to listen and ask me to share something else. And I was just so excited that this was happening, because this was something I had worked on personally with, with my own time for an extended period of time, but then also to be able to show that other people can feel safe themselves, um that really was like the best thing. And so in me sharing my own situation and what I went through then, you know, having others you know share on other people's behalves, and people who had reached out to me separately because they read an article, or they saw me testify or anything like that, and that person that was going through this process, not similar to mine, but in their own, in their own way, you know their, their support team you know would reach out to me and ask if there's anything that they can do, and how they can help them, which was really wonderful to have people out there that also wanted to help others. It's a really hard process and something hard, you know, difficult to even go through.

[00:36:24] Bob: Doesn't of states now offer Address Confidentiality Programs. You can search on the internet for the best way to sign up.

[00:36:31] Bob: The sad truth is most people do not realize how large a group it is of folks who really, it might be a life-or-death situation for them if someone that they don't want finds out where they live or what their phone number is or, or what name they're using even. There's a lot of people who are on, trying to keep those things secret for domestic violence reasons, partner violence reasons, other reasons. The rest of us who can, lucky enough to not have to worry about that, I think do not realize how large a universe that is. Can, can you help those folks understand, because you've heard from these people how, how, how many people are in this situation.

[00:37:03] Jessica Tunon: Yeah, and it's not just the situation that, to your point, not just the situation is in, but it's also the family members or the neighbors or anything like that also. Making them aware of that information because or else if you've been a victim or not, you never know when it might happen to you. So being able to be aware of the fact that your information that is what you think is just provided easily, what you think is shared to a small group of where that can go and need to.

[00:37:33] Bob: You said something really important which is, okay, so however sad this is, someone who's a victim of partner violence today, that's a, a fairly obvious need to keep your information private. Victor had no way of predicting the way that his personal information would have been used against him because he applied for a PPP loan. So privacy, that doesn't just impact what we can imagine as a bad thing today, but there are unknown bad things coming in the future that we have to worry about, right?

[00:37:57] Jessica Tunon: Yes, yes. And when there is a breach, regardless if it's government or a company, and the breach as in, the information that you do share within any organization, that information that goes out and who it's made public to and how soon that entity, whether it be government or a company, how soon they need to share that your information was given out and what way it was given out. There's also not any law of how soon you will find out my information was shared and what was shared. There is opportunity to unshare it, um, there is no, as far as I know, there is no real law about that information.

[00:38:38] Bob: You know this opportunity to unshare, you've used that phrase a lot, and I like, it's something, it's a phrase I don't really, I haven't really heard before. Can you tell me what you mean by an opportunity to unshare?

[00:38:49] Jessica Tunon: So if I am going to sign up for say the, you know, in this instance or something that's government related, you can actually ask the government to not share your information. They do provide an actual line somewhere or a website or a phone number for you to go to so that that information is not made public. The extent of how long it takes, that I don't know. The cost sometimes, maybe you purchase a home or do something like that, you know, there might be more percent to that, but there are opportunities for you to do that. Again...

[00:39:26] Bob: I, I didn't realize that was a thing, when you buy a house there's some form you can fill out so that you don't get a bunch of marketing after your mortgage closes?

[00:39:31] Jessica Tunon: No, there's not, oh, I wish, I had looked into that. No. Um, that would be, no, but creating a trust, putting your, your the title in a trust, then yes, you can.

[00:39:44] Bob: Ah interesting.

[00:39:45] Jessica Tunon: And some banks honestly don't like that necessarily um, but even you know for in that situation, 'cause that information is made public, but yes, there are ways of going around it, but not all banks may want you to have that opportunity to go around it and may not, you know, provide that. So there are ways of, again, going around that, but that may take timing, finances to be able to do that.

[00:40:10] Bob: But citizens can request that other government agencies unshare their information.

[00:40:16] Jessica Tunon: Uh yeah, so if I wanted to have it, you know, removed, you just have to contact whoever it is and say, "Oh, can I remove this information," and say why. And then in the case for this, there is a way to remove yourself from it, who's already sold it and where it's gone, that's a different story, but going forward, there are ways of doing that. It might be a request that you need to make because of it, and what happened to you, so you might have to share your story or share, but as far as I know, you, you are able to get that removed.

[00:40:45] Bob: It doesn't sound easy though.

[00:40:46] Jessica Tunon: Oh, nothing's easy, no. (laugh) I, again, I'm not going to, I can't share the amount of hours and days and the people I've spoken to regarding the, and the fact that even I've gone through what I've gone through, you know, there's one data breach and my information's shared again.

[00:41:05] Bob: That sounds frustrating.

[00:41:06] Jessica Tunon: Yes, it is, because that happens often, and you don't understand why is that information shared or how or, you know a lot of even you know in government when you want to upgrade when they upgrade from say one database to another database and how that information might be shared, because there's an organization that, you know, helps government with that information. But there's one click that someone might do and that information's being shared again.

[00:41:34] Bob: God. So...

[00:41:35] Jessica Tunon: Which has happened. Yes.

[00:41:36] Bob: Yeah, I'm sure, and I'm sure you must sit there pulling your hair out when that happens.

[00:41:40] Jessica Tunon: (laugh)

[00:41:41] Bob: I'm impressed you still have hair after all this, honestly.

[00:41:44] Jessica Tunon: Yeah, and it's the thing is that, you know, when you sign up for things and you, you just don't know where that information's going. So any time you sign up for anything, you have to know and ask, but then, even then there's a breach that happens and where that information goes, so just know that every time there's a breach or there's a data migration that happens, the fact that someone may have checked you off as private and then made public because whatever reason, that is going to happen, so it's just knowing that, those things do happen, right. We, everyone is human, and there is no real law to protect you.

[00:42:21] Bob: Let's say you're talking to the next government bureaucrat who, for good reasons, is working on making sure that information government taxpayer information is public. Well what would you say to that person so that they could keep all these other concerns in mind?

[00:42:35] Jessica Tunon: I put that on the webpage the first thing I would write. (laugh) In bold and which, you know, if it's um, it, you know, accessible to everyone to be able to read, but I would put that on the first thing is that this information and how it's shared, and that you have an opportunity to unshare it.

[00:42:50] Bob: Okay, so somebody listening to this program is thinking, I want to protect myself better, you know, Jessica's my hero. How I can be like her? What would you suggest to them?

[00:42:58] Jessica Tunon: First, find out where your information is at. I don't know how many people just do a search on themselves, and where that is, and then you know contacting the companies to do that. So you actually can block your information but it might not be done as easily as you anticipate and it might be more time consuming and even when you do do that, they might share your information again.

[00:43:20] Bob: It becomes kind of a part-time hobby, doesn't it?

[00:43:23] Jessica Tunon: It did. It actually did. (laugh) And again, I, I can't even show you how many hours or how much time or how many conversations I had with people who just didn't want to talk to me anymore because that's all I could think about and talk about.

[00:43:36] Bob: Yeah, but you, do you google yourself like once a month, once every six months?

[00:43:40] Jessica Tunon: I do it once a month, and...

[00:43:43] Bob: How often do you find something that makes your skin crawl?

[00:43:45] Jessica Tunon: Every time.

[00:43:46] Bob: Every time.

[00:43:46] Bob: Every time. And that's why, unfortunately, we all have to take our own privacy seriously. All have to fight for it on a regular basis. Search for yourself online. Contact companies and government agencies publishing information about you that you don't want public because, like Victor, you never know when it might come back to hurt you. Now you won't always be successful, there will always be tension between the need for public records and the need for privacy, but it's important to, at least be aware of what anyone, what any criminal can learn about you. And most of all, never talk to someone who calls you unexpectedly on the phone, no matter how believable their story is. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.


[00:44:43] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is:, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us. That address again is: Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Becky Dodson; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.


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