ST. GEORGE – Serious issues facing Southern Utah such as white collar crime, suicide and human trafficking were among topics addressed by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes at a town hall meeting Friday evening at the Delores Doré Eccles Fine Arts Center in St. George.
“I believe that Southern Utah is a very safe place, a very desirable (place) to raise a family, to have a business,” Reyes said in a related interview with St. George News. “If we can work on some of these areas that I’ve mentioned – that white-collar fraud and Ponzi scams, investment fraud, if we can unmask and deal with some of the human trafficking – some of these things that hide in plain sight, I think Southern Utah will be an even better place to live.”
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White-collar fraud and crime is a big problem in Utah and affects Southern Utah even more, Reyes said, because of the high number of seniors.
Fraud, Ponzi schemes and bad investment deals rob Utahns of hundreds of millions of dollars every year and can be just as devastating as violent crimes.
“When you think about somebody who loses their entire life savings in one deal and then doesn’t have the resources to take care of him or herself or their spouse or enjoy a quality of life that they have saved up 20, 30, 50 years for,” Reyes said, “it’s devastating.”
Utah is proportionally the epicenter of white-collar crime …, Reyes said, because the people are inclined to trust each other. He recommends that residents “trust, but verify.”
Earlier this year Utah became the first state to create a white-collar crime offender registry where people can find out if someone has one or more white-collar convictions.
St. George has one of the highest rates of internet crimes in terms of people being duped, Reyes said. One example is a scam that allows personal information to be stolen.
“What will happen is the average person on their computer will see some pop-up saying your computer has been invaded, it’s been infected, it now has all of these viruses and malware,” Reyes said. “‘If you just press this link, we can help you for free ….'”
The scam continues as the potential victim chats online with a seemingly nice, friendly person and eventually gives them permission to take control of their computer in order to “fix” it.
“People, very trusting, turn over their computer and in a matter of minutes they’ve downloaded every private file and document from that person – passwords, social security numbers, everything that they can use to take your identity and use it,” Reyes said.
“The rate of teen suicide is through the roof,” Reyes said.
In Utah, for ages 10-21, teen suicide is the highest cause of death, more than the next three causes of death combined, including car accidents and illnesses, Reyes said.
And southwestern Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the state.
“You might not think that the AG’s office could play a role in that,” Reyes said, “(but) we do. We represent all the state agencies, so the Legislature has put us in charge of trying to do something about this.”
The AG’s office helped launch a new suicide prevention tool for teens – the SafeUT Crisis & Safety Tipline app which gives access to help for teens in crisis by phone or by text. Reyes said young people are much more likely to text than to call.
“Nobody calls anymore, they text,” Reyes said.
The app provides confidential and anonymous two-way communication with SafeUT crisis counselors or school staff via one-touch options to “Call CrisisLine,” “Chat CrisisLine,” or “Submit a Tip.”
Teens can reach out for help if they are suicidal, depressed, cutting themselves, have an eating disorder, are experiencing cyberbullying or cybercrimes; help is also available for school safety issues.
“Instead of feeling like no one’s there to listen to them, there’s somebody on the other end. And those people are experts, worldwide experts, from the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute and their entire team,” Reyes said. The team is available 24/7 and will stay in contact as long as needed.
The app is anonymous and password protected, so teens can keep their communications completely confidential. SafeUT was launched six months ago, Reyes said, and already hundreds of young people have used it to reach out for help.
SafeUT can also be used to anonymously and confidentially report weapons or other school safety concerns; the information is passed to the school and then to local law enforcement officials. The app is free and available for Apple and Android devices.
SafeUT was unveiled in 2016 by the AG’s office along with the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, Utah Office of Education and the School Safety and Crisis Line Commission.
Modern slavery involves 20-40 million people worldwide, Reyes said, and not just in third-world countries. It also occurs in Utah and even in Southern Utah, Reyes said, because it’s something no one suspects could exist in such a wonderful community.
Reyes has been involved in Operation Underground Railroad and at one point traveled undercover to Columbia, on his own private time, to help bust child sex traffickers in a sting operation.
“So I’ve made it a priority to work with law enforcement agencies, physicians, doctors, private organizations, truckers, airline attendants, hotel owners all around the world to try and stamp this out,” Reyes said.
“So we ask people to be vigilant, to call authorities if they suspect that something’s wrong, within reason,” he said. “If they see something that just doesn’t look or feel right, call it in.”
A Republican, Reyes is being challenged for the position by Democratic candidate Jon Harper, Independent American candidate Michael Isbell, and Libertarian candidate W. Andrew McCullough. The general election is Nov. 11.
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