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ElderWatch Battles Consumer Fraud

Volunteers help resolve complaints, educate public about scams

Barbara and Raymond Latzer turned to AARP Foundation's ElderWatch program after being barraged by telemarketers demanding payment for a medical alert necklace they never agreed to purchase.

Barbara and Raymond Latzer turned to AARP Foundation's ElderWatch program after being barraged by telemarketing calls demanding payment for a medical alert necklace they never agreed to purchase. — Photo by Matt Slaby/LUCEO

En español | When Barbara Latzer, 78, received a telemarketing call for a medical alert necklace subscription at $49 a month, she immediately said, "I can't afford that."

But for the next two months, Barbara and her husband, Raymond, 82, both legally blind and living in Northglenn, were barraged with calls. "Pay $248 to cancel the service." "We're not going to let you get out of this." "We'll call you day and night."

See also: Seniors hit by swindlers.

One caller claimed the company had taped Barbara agreeing to the service. "Can I hear the recording?" Raymond asked. "It'll cost you $500 to hear it in court," the caller replied.

Angry, Raymond called the Colorado Attorney General's Office and was referred to ElderWatch, an AARP Foundation program. An ElderWatch volunteer arranged a conference call among the medical alert company representative, Raymond and the volunteer. The hardball calls soon stopped.

With ElderWatch, Raymond said, "you're not standing alone."

ElderWatch was created in 2001 when the Colorado Attorney General's Office provided a $1 million start-up grant to the AARP Foundation to screen and attempt to resolve complaints of scams against older people in the state. Unresolved cases may be referred to police, securities investigators or other consumer resources.

Ongoing funding from the Attorney General's Office — $250,000 this year — also allows the roughly 180 ElderWatch volunteers to make presentations across Colorado, educating seniors on how best to protect themselves against consumer fraud.

Other organizations provide grants so volunteers can phone older people around the country when scams such as home repair schemes pop up. For instance, volunteers called seniors to warn them of charity scams after the Japanese tsunami.

Since 2001, ElderWatch volunteers have called more than 350,000 households to warn about scams and have handled more than 20,000 consumer complaints.

Next: Criminals think seniors are wealthy. >>

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