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Fraud Fighters Help Older People Guard Assets

Volunteers expose scammers' tricks

Paul Stern, 82, of Bothell, participates in a pilot program with the AARP Washington Fraud Fighter Call Center.

Paul Stern, 82, of Bothell, participates in a pilot program with the AARP Washington Fraud Fighter Call Center, calling older people who have fallen for scams, hoping to end the cycle of victimization. — Photo by Jose Mandojana

A Minneapolis man got a panicked call from his "grandson," who said he was in Canada for a funeral and got arrested on trumped-up drug and firearms charges. Could "Granddad" send $2,075 for bail?

The next day the "grandson" needed more money for more fines. In all, the "granddad" sent nearly $34,000 in six installments before he allowed himself to realize he'd been scammed.

See also: Attend a webinar on investor fraud.

"The people who fall for this are not fools," said Paul Stern, a volunteer in AARP Washington's Fraud Fighter Call Center. "This man sounded intelligent. He prided himself all his life for being cautious and checking things out." But when the "grandson" called in distress, "his emotions caught him up," Stern said.

Stern, 82, of Bothell, spoke to the man on the phone for more than an hour as part of a pilot program designed to help older people who have been victims of fraud avoid falling for a scammer's line again.

Counseling victims

People who have been snookered by a charlatan once may be more likely to be duped again, said Lois Greisman, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Marketing Practices. The FTC receives millions of complaints a year, and "one-on-one assistance is just not doable," she said.

So the agency asked AARP Washington's Fraud Fighter Call Center, a program of the AARP Foundation, to provide counseling to scam victims nationwide. The goal, she said, "is to make people less susceptible to scams and less likely that they will be victimized again."

For the past six years, the Seattle-based Fraud Fighter Call Center has made 500,000 calls warning consumers across the nation of whatever flimflam schemes were being perpetrated at the time. It's that expertise, Greisman said, that the FTC turned to as a way to reduce the number of older people who become victims of trickery.

Next: Teaching new Medicare beneficiaries how to spot fraud. »

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