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Law Student Tackles Fraud Online; BBB Says It’s Time To Shred

burn whistle logo
Proided by Nathaniel Carroll

Our recent reports about assorted consumer scams brought an interesting response from a Saint Louis University law student who is developing an online website to help centralize efforts to fight fraud.

Nathaniel Carroll and his associates came up with a catchy name — Burn Whistle— and eye-catching graphics for a blog they’ve launched. Their slogan is “Fight Fraud With Fire.”

Carroll said the goal is to allow consumers to anonymously report their experiences and direct them to appropriate help, while developing a shareable database to identify patterns of fraud. The database would connect the dots between the various law-enforcement agencies, such as offices of state attorneys general, that currently report fraud. Those cases can appear to be isolated incidents, unless a consumer or investigator checks all of the different places where people report fraud.

“People are reporting fraud all over the internet,’’ Carroll said.

Carroll, 28, is from Camdenton, Mo., and will graduate from law school in May. He said he was inspired to take up the cause during an internship with a Land of Lincoln legal aid office in East St. Louis, where he encountered a victim who had lost several thousands of dollars in a door-to-door vacuum cleaner scam.

“This was a senior citizen, and the people who came to the home used a bunch of high-pressure sales tactics and a lot of deception,’’ he said. “The vacuum cleaner scam is one of the oldest in the book and is still happening.’’

While assisting his client, Carroll discovered that the process for reporting and investigating fraud cases is fragmented. The Burn Whistle concept made it through the preliminary rounds of the 2014 Arch Grants competition for startups but didn’t make it into the final round. Carroll is undeterred and says he will continue searching for funding to take Burn Whistleto its next development step.

Carroll was one of the respondents to our PIN inquiry about fraud that ran with our recent storieson scams and robocallers.

Shred Day Saturday: Dispose Of Old Documents

Spring cleaning can turn up piles of documents that are outdated but contain personal information. Because that paperwork should be shredded to avoid the threat of identify theft, the St. Louis Better Business Bureau has designated Saturday as a free “Shred Day.”

Consumers can bring up to three boxes of documents to two locations from 8 a.m. to noon: the southeast corner of the Saint Louis Galleria parking lot at Interstate 64 and Brentwood Boulevard, and Schnucks in Edwardsville at 2222 Troy Road.

Documents recommended for shredding are any that contain financial information, account numbers, PIN numbers, birth dates, or Social Security numbers. That can include old identification cards, legal documents, credit card and bank statements and canceled checks.

The BBB says consumers should use bags or cardboard boxes that can be shredded along with their documents. The Consumer Fraud Task Force is co-sponsoring the event. Shred-It, a Securit company, is donating the shredding service.

How Long Should Consumers Keep Documents?

Even in this digital age, paper can pile up. How long should consumers keep personal and financial documents? Here’s a list, courtesy of the St. Louis BBB:

* Tax returns: eight years. That includes supporting documents, such as charitable donation receipts, medical bills and property tax records.

* Records on contributions to individual retirement accounts (IRAs): permanently.

* Statements from retirement and savings plans: Keep monthly and quarterly statements until the end of the year. Keep year-end statements permanently.

* Brokerage statements: until the securities are sold. Sale and basis records used in tax returns should be kept for eight years.

* Insurance policies: for the life of the policy.

* Copies of bills: until you have confirmation that the bill has been paid. Keep them for eight years if they relate to taxes.

* Credit card receipts: until you get the monthly statement. If the statement is correct, you can shred the receipts. Keep the statements for eight years if they include tax-related expenses.

* Paycheck stubs: until you get your W-2 form. At that point, stubs can be shredded unless they include information needed for tax returns, such as union dues, health insurance costs or retirement plan contributions. It is good to keep the year's final stub for seven years — or permanently.

* House records, including purchase price and cost of permanent improvements: permanently, or until seven years after you sell the house.

This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. If you have been the victim of a scam — or you hear about a new one — please click here to respond as a source for St. Louis Public Radio and share your story, or send an email to mdelachleonard@stlpublicradio.org

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.