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FBI says education key to fighting East Texas crime trends

Megan Hix

By Megan Hix
Dec. 20, 2017 at 12:13 a.m.

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TYLER — Whether it's scams, drugs or human trafficking, FBI Agent Eric Jackson said education is key to cutting down such crimes in East Texas.

"Sometimes education is the most important thing," said Jackson, the special agent in charge for the FBI's Dallas division, which oversees Longview, Tyler and the surrounding area.

Jackson and other area FBI agents spoke Tuesday during a media event in Tyler about crime trends in the area.

He said the FBI is trying to work with local law enforcement agencies and independently to get the word out on some of the area's most pressing issues.

Human trafficking, for example, was rarely talked about until the past few years, Jackson said.

"Now people are aware," he said. "It has had an effect, because it has taken something in the shadows and brought it to light."

He said getting the word out that modern-day slavery exists and happens close to home is helping the FBI fight it.

"Most of the time, these cases come from tips from the public," Jackson said. "The community sees this, not only in the businesses they frequent, but if family and friends (of victims) are aware of what's happening, we need them to bring it to our attention."

Jackson said crystal methamphetamine, marijuana and opioids are among the most pressing drug issues in the area and can be fought with education.

"Use is prevalent, especially in East Texas, and we've seen an uptick in those areas," Jackson said. "But this isn't something we can arrest our way out of."

He said people with extra prescription painkillers often don't know how to dispose of them, leaving them to fall into the hands of abusers. With synthetic drugs, he said it's vital that people know that the substances can kill.

The FBI said scams also are a popular crime in the Longview area. The FBI's Tyler office receives one or two new reports every week, but it's often too late to get a victim's money back, said Bill Melrose, an agent in the Tyler office.

In total, Americans lost $1.3 billion in 300,000 reported incidents this past year, he said.

"It's difficult to locate (scammers); they often work from out of the country ... and use fake names," Melrose said.

Once a person falls for a scam, he or she likely will be a repeat target, so prevention is often the best way to fight scammers, he said.

The scams the FBI deals with usually have a new twist, but generally fall in four categories: romance scams, lottery scams, Nigerian letter scams and work-from-home scams.

In romance scams, the scammer might target divorced or widowed people on a legitimate dating site or app, gain their trust and ask for money.

"They'll exploit their vulnerability, which is loneliness," Melrose said. "Losses can be in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they realize it's over."

Other scams might seem to involve a government official who is demanding money or someone offering to share lottery winnings.

"If you didn't enter a lottery, how could you win a lottery?" Melrose asked.

Jackson urged people to report any scams to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

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