Perhaps the most despicable aspect of scammers and fraudsters, says Pat Loftin, a long-time volunteer with AARP Foundation’s Fraud Fighter Call Center in Washington state, is that they prey on how trusting older people sometimes are. Part of Pat’s job is to reach out to seniors who have been identified as potential targets of scams and warn them about what’s out there, and on more than one occasion she’s gotten a sense of how the scammers are able to succeed.
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“One woman I talked to said toward the end of the call, ‘You’ve been so nice to me. If you’re ever in this area, you should come and see me.’ This woman only knew me from the phone call I had placed to her, and yet she was willing to open her home to me. That’s the kind of person the scammers go after,” said Pat in a recent interview.
Pat also answers calls to the Fraud Fighter’s toll-free hotline (800-646-2283), and she again often finds that she has to warn people not to be so trusting. One caller had made an appointment with someone who was offering help with Medicare insurance – a well-known scam – and Pat told her point-blank not to keep the appointment. The woman’s response: “But I have an appointment, and you’ve taught me what to say, so I’m sure it will be fine.” Pat had to be adamant, telling her to be away from the house if she had to, but by no means to keep the appointment.
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That’s how Pat is with many of those she helps; it becomes a personal mission. Sometimes the circumstances are heartbreaking, and Pat does whatever she can to help. She talks many callers through the angst and feelings of shame of having been “taken,” offering words of comfort and sometimes even stern advice. Like so many other AARP Foundation volunteers, she often goes well beyond the basics of her “job,” which in the case of Fraud Fighters is to provide contact information so that callers can report a crime to the police or get assistance from public service agencies.
In one case, a man called to tell his story and to warn others of how he had been taken, but he was still clearly in the grip of the scammers. He said he had lost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to lottery scams (those deals where you’re told you have won and just have to pay a processing fee first). She advised him to stop responding, but he kept saying, “If just one of these comes through, I’ll be all right.” He clearly believed that some of these offers were actually legitimate.
After a lengthy conversation, Pat suggested that he call the state attorney general’s office, where he could get reliable information on specific lotteries. But it seemed he almost didn’t want to know, saying it wasn’t a toll-free number and he wasn’t going to waste his money calling.
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No one would have blamed Pat if she had thrown up her hands in frustration at that point. But she didn’t. She called the state office herself and got them to provide a toll-free number, then she called the lottery victim back. “I don’t know if he ever called,” Pat says, but she felt she had done all she could to offer a much-needed dose of reality.
Pat works one shift a week at the Fraud Fighter Call Center and loves sitting at lunch with other volunteers to compare notes. She says that “You will not believe what I heard today” is often how the conversation gets started.
Now 71, Pat began volunteering when her children were young. After she retired, she was able to increase the amount of time she devotes to helping others. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. She has volunteered at a heritage center and with a program that pairs student nurses with older adults such as herself, so that the students can learn what matters to seniors as ordinary people, not just as patients in crisis. Pat is also an ambassador for RSVP, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, going to events to speak about the joys of volunteering.
When Pat is making calls to potential scam victims, she sometimes gets a warm thank you, but often the people she’s calling just hang up. Frustrating? Not really. “It’s a hard lesson, Pat says, “but hang-ups are actually good. That means they’ll be hanging up on the scammers, too.” It’s mission accomplished one way or the other, and that’s what matters most to Pat Loftin.