An effort to raise awareness for scam and fraud tactics came to Richland County on Wednesday, Oct. 9, when Matt Rosedale, commissioner of securities and insurance for Montana, stopped by the Senior Citizen Center in Fairview. Rosedale and his team presented to senior citizens about exploitation, ways to spot illegal schemes and general advice to avoid falling victim.
“What we have is a situation where 20 percent of the population of the state of Montana are seniors,” Rosedale said. “You control about 70 percent of the state’s assets. A harsh reality is you have become extremely large targets for unscrupulous people that want to perform scams.”
Lynne Egan, deputy securities commissioner, presented information to attendees about Ponzi and pyramid schemes, real-life examples of such schemes in Montana, illegal investment practices and how to check their legitimacy — call the Montana Commission of Securities and Insurance at (406) 444-2040..
Locally, Sidney Police Department Capt. Mark Kraft said they’ve been dealing with reports of scams and frauds for some time.
“It’s unfortunately been a pretty constant subject that we’ve dealt with,” Kraft said.
A large variety of scams frequently circulate the area, from telephone to email and social media.
“Family with More Freedom, in fact, just this weekend had something I thought was suspicious,” Kraft said. “It was an advertisement for French bulldog puppies at what seemed to be a low price. The seller wanted communication through WhatsApp.”
Kraft explained rare or highly desirable breeds of dogs at low prices and unusual communication requests should raise red flags.
Scammers don’t stop there. Recently there have been calls in the area from people impersonating Sidney law enforcement, requesting payments of varying degrees, possibly for bail of a family member or unpaid parking tickets, or asking for personal information.
“The scammers impersonating the Sidney Police Department officers or claiming to be with the Sidney Police Department, I’d say that’s a recent development within the last year or so,” Kraft said.
More commonly, law enforcement is aware of phone calls from people claiming to be with the Social Security Administration or the IRS. Those calls often advise people of potential warrants for arrest if a fee isn’t paid immediately.
“That’s just not how law enforcement works,” Kraft said. “No legitimate law enforcement organization would ever demand any sort of monetary payment over the phone or in person.”
Text messages requesting payment of fines are also not commonplace by legitimate law enforcement agencies.
“Law enforcement agencies themselves will never solicit a payment,” Kraft said.
He said during a traffic stop, people have the ability to pay their bond on the spot to the officer roadside and will receive a receipt, but such a payment is never demanded. It’s just an option for the motorist’s convenience.
“Any request from a law enforcement agency asking for money or demanding money, threatening a warrant for somebody’s arrest in exchange for money — always a fraud,” Kraft said.
In the instance of an unpaid parking ticket or fine, the jurisdictional court would issue a warrant for arrest.
“There might be occasions where law enforcement might call and say, ‘Hey, you have a warrant. You need to go up to the court and take care of it,’” Kraft said, but reiterated they would never ask for the payment themselves.
To a large degree, victims of telephone scams are the elderly. Kraft said that can often be because of lack of understanding of how the system works and because the older population typically has more immediate cash available.
“They’ve had a lifetime to earn money and pay off homes and typically have a little more money than younger folks who are making their way in life,” Kraft said.
Recently, U.S. Census-geared scams have also become prevalent. Things the U.S. Census Bureau will never ask for includes a full social security number, money/donations, anything on behalf of a political party, bank or credit card numbers, or your mother’s maiden name.
More tips on how to spot U.S. Census fraud can be found at census.gov/programs-surveys/surveyhelp/fraudulent-activity-and-scams.html. Other websites to help spot scams are fraud.org and scamawareness.org.
Awareness is the best tool to fight scammers. Many don’t report such situations out of embarrassment or fear. It’s important to remember it’s highly unlikely the scam hit only one person. Coming forward could help prevent others from falling victim too.
A drug task force isn’t the way to go for Sidney, as determined by a presentation from local law enforcement at the most recent drug awareness coalition meeting, a new group formed by the Sidney Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs committee. The coalition was discussed during Government Affair’s recent regular meeting Wednesday, Oct. 9.
“Capt. Kraft, Chief DiFonzo and Sheriff Dynneson presented a presentation saying that we are already doing so much police work on DUIs and narcotics arrests that they do not feel doing a drug task force would be cost effective,” said Jessica Redfield, member of both committees. “They would rather see the local community, if we’re going to be doing a fundraising event or putting taxpayer money toward additional funding, they would rather see that go to specific training for narcotics.”
With clear guidance from law enforcement, Redfield said the group discussed what was next for the coalition. Kali Godfrey from Richland County Health Department attended the meeting as well and the group decided to form as an action committee under Communities in Action.
“We had a really good discussion on where we would like to see the committee to go,” Redfield said. “We have some goals we would like to accomplish.”
Those goals include mirroring Yellowstone County’s drug coalition model, sending out press releases, establishing a social media presence and holding community meetings. The group also discussed providing narcotics training for adults and other education opportunities. There has been talk about developing a “Dare-like” program geared toward youth education. Redfield said Chief of Police Frank DiFonzo expressed a desire to have more effective communication between law enforcement and area schools.
The next meeting for the action group will be Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 5:30 p.m, behind city hall in the old fire hall.
In other news
Leslie Messer, executive director of Richland Economic Development Corp (REDC), reminded the committee of the Public Service Commission meeting to discuss the closure of the Lewis and Clark Station, to take place in Helena on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 11 a.m. Citizens wishing to attend may reserve a spot on the bus arranged by REDC leaving Monday, Oct. 28. Reservations can be made by calling 406-482-4679.
1On Thursday, Oct. 17, Ken Duvall hosts training for mental health services and referrals, and building community partnerships from 9 a.m. — 3 p.m., VFW in Sidney. RSVP at https://cctpatvfwsidneymtoct19.eventbrite.com.
2Also on Thursday is Candle dipping class, MonDak Heritage Center, 6 p.m. Ages 8 and up recommended. Call 406-433-3500.
3On Friday, Oct. 18, Yellowstone River Rats Walleye Tournament meets in Richland Park, Sidney, for a mandatory rules meeting at 6:15 p.m. Entry fee is $100 per two-person team with a maximum of 30 teams. Fishing begins Saturday, Oct. 19, at 8 a.m. — 4 p.m.
4Looking for something spooky to do this month? Try the Cemetery Walk, Fort Buford, 6:30-8:30 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 19. Join ghosts in the cemetery as they tell the stories of how they came to reside there.
5On Saturday, Oct. 19, and Sunday, Oct. 20, Kiwanis fruit is available for pickup at Johnson’s Hardware warehouse, north of Action Auto on Third Avenue NE from 9 a.m. — 3 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. — 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“Probably to fly.”
“To get free money.”
Despite weather setbacks, sugar beet harvest is forging ahead and boasting solid numbers this year, with 90,000 tons on the ground as of Wednesday, Oct. 9.
Duane Peters, agriculture manager with Sidney Sugars, said harvest officially started on Sept. 27 in Culbertson, where they saw less moisture this fall than surrounding areas.
“The last couple of years we’ve started the factory earlier due to the size of the crop and the amount of acres we’ve had,” Peters said. “But looking at the acres this year and the size of the crop, we thought if we could start around the 20th of September, that would be a nice time to start.”
Peters said the moisture set that date back a bit, but harvest is moving along well despite the conditions. Culbertson had a few good days and were able to get 6,000 tons of beets on the ground before more weather moved in. Beet harvest got off the ground around Sidney soon after, with all five stations officially running by Monday, Oct. 7.
“The growers got out and started digging,” Peters said. “They actually found some fields that were harvesting really good. It wasn’t as muddy as they thought it was going to be.”
From Oct. 7 up until noon on Wednesday, Oct. 9, before the snow shut people down, Peters estimated roughly 90,000 tons of beets on the ground.
“They did a tremendous job harvesting. I can’t commend the growers enough for this. It’s been a struggle,” he said. “It’s not fun harvesting in the mud.”
Peters highly praised area producers for perseverance and for crop quality despite conditions. Beets are averaging about 17 percent sugar and are expected to average out at around 17.5 percent. Sugar content typically rises as harvest goes on. Average tonnage per acre is projected around 31.5, with some producers averaging closer to 37 tons/acre and some reporting 26 tons/acre.
“We’re definitely seeing some variance here. Again, I think that’s more weather-related and soil-related,” Peters said. “We haven’t seen a lot of sunshine… These beets need sunshine. That’s how they grow.”
Harvest time usually means strained traffic around the area and Peters reminded people to slow down, share the road, be patient and don’t crowd the beet trucks.
“I always like to warn people these trucks can’t stop on a dime. They’re carrying quite a bit of weight… Harvest happens once a year. Please be courteous.”
The recent snow shutdown is expected to last a couple days. Peters said they will keep an eye on temperatures and if sugar beets frost, they will let them heal before digging again, hopefully within a few days.
“That’s our next hiccup we are kind of worried about,” he said. “I can’t thank the growers enough. They’re battling it this year.”
That battle started last spring with area flooding and continues with unexpectedly harsh weather conditions. Currently, beet harvest sits about 9-10 percent complete, which is slightly behind schedule. By now, it should be 15-20 percent complete. As always, Peters said they are aiming to wrap up beet harvest by the end of October. Regardless of delays, the crop is still comparable to previous years.
“Last year was a good crop. We had very favorable growing conditions,” Peters said. “This year was a slow-starting crop, but we have more plants per acre.”
A higher plant population was found in 10-foot tests performed, which averaged 17-22 beets compared to last year’s 10-14 beets per 10-feet. That’s a reason to remain optimistic about this year’s crop.
With over 100 growers harvest an estimated 31,000 acres, Peters did expect some beets to go unharvested due to excessive moisture.
“We do have growers reporting already that they will not be able to harvest some of their acres because it’s just going to be unsuitable to harvest.”
The sugar beet industry in eastern Montana continues it’s reputation this year as some of the best crop in the country, Peters said.
“This area is known for growing sugar beets. This is something we are all proud of. These farmers are known nationwide for producing a very good sugar beet crop. There’s a lot of pride that goes on here — a lot of pride, a lot of knowledge, a lot wisdom that these growers have. They should be very proud to be called sugar beet growers.”