"Criminals believe that older Americans are in possession of a lot of wealth, right or wrong," said Jan Zavislan, Colorado deputy attorney general for consumer protection. This generation is generous and trusting, he said.
ElderWatch credits its success to peers talking to peers, which builds trust and understanding. Volunteers receive a day of training and work at least four hours a week in ElderWatch's Denver office.
Volunteers are people like Bill Wills, 74, a retired financial manager for the state government. "It keeps me involved," he said as he prepared for a morning of calls underneath a "wall of shame" pinned with lottery scams, fake checks and duplicitous emails.
"If you help one person, you make a difference," he said.
As callers tell Wills and other volunteers their stories, their confidence may grow to bring a complaint before a board or regulatory agency.
"Sometimes people want validation that they've been scammed," said Amy Nofziger, ElderWatch director. "We give it to them."
ElderWatch can help people spot a scam before they're snookered. But when a person has already sent money to a foreign lottery, for instance, it's almost impossible to get the money back.
Nofziger said that in 2010, Colorado seniors reported losses of $5.3 million to ElderWatch but recovered just $40,000.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said ElderWatch "has had a tremendous effect on seniors in Colorado. From educating them about common scams to fielding seniors' calls about issues they face, ElderWatch has been an extraordinary effective program."
The program is seeking Spanish-speaking volunteers. To volunteer, contact Julie Mangum, ElderWatch senior program assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 720-947-5302.
If you think you are a fraud victim, call 1-800-222-4444 and choose option 2 to report it.
Rachel Brand is a writer living in Denver.