Seth Johnson

Johnson

TRAVERSE CITY — Those who’ve been victims of cyber crimes in the Grand Traverse region can now call or text 211 to report the crime and get some help to recover from it.

The Cybercrime Victim Support Initiative is now available free-of-charge to residents in 13 northern Michigan counties, including Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau.

Their call will go to a center in Grand Rapids that is staffed by trained United Way workers who will work with people on recovering their personal information and sometimes money, as well as teach them the red flags of cyber crime.

They also take down the details of the crime so it can be entered into a database that keeps track of the latest ways people are being duped.

Everybody knows about the Saudi prince scam, but they might not know about the emails being sent out in attempts to defraud people of their stimulus checks, said Seth Johnson, president of the United Way of Northwest Michigan.

“This is meant to be a place to turn,” Johnson said. “This is meant to be a 24/7 resource where they can get the information they need.”

A call to 211 does not take the place of reporting the crime to local law enforcement, which also should be done, Johnson said.

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said the hotline is a good resource for people who are victims of a cybercrime.

He has seen an increase in incidents during COVID-19, many of them scammers trying to get people to donate to various false funds.

“People have no scruples when it comes to things like that,” Borkovich said. “They’ll take advantage of senior citizens and try to rip them off.”

The initiative was launched by the Cybercrime Support Network and Heart of West Michigan United Way, which have partnered with the Heart of Florida United Way to implement a multi-state response to victims of cyber crimes.

A $1.4 million U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime Vision 21 Grant is funding the implementation of the hotline nationally using existing 211 infrastructure. The grant was awarded in early 2019 and will continue for two years.

The 211 hotline has been in place in the Grand Traverse area for about a year, Johnson said, and is used by people who are in crisis or need help with food or utility payments.

The need for a cyber crimes hotline has become more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“More and more of us are online and so more and more of us are vulnerable,” Johnson said.

Common cyber crimes include identity theft, financial scams, hacked accounts and cyberbullying, harassment and stalking.

Cyber criminals prey on vulnerable populations, with one-third of American adults estimated to be victims of cybercrime or online fraud every year, according to the CSN. Michigan reported more than $47 million in losses from cyber crimes in 2019, according to the Internet Crimes Complaint Center, a division of the FBI.

Visit hwmuw.org/cybercrime to learn more about the initiative.

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