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Ohio Volunteers Are Finding the Funny in Fraud

Mike Kessler and Phil Smith use humor to teach their community about scams

Serious looking men photographed outdoors

Brooke LaValley

En español | Mike Kessler, 70, and Phil Smith, 68, are a popular Ohio comedy duo. You'll find them in an unlikely place: the AARP Fraud Watch Network circuit.

The volunteers give rapid-fire presentations, talking over each other and flinging zingers as they advise older adults on how to fend off scam artists.

Kessler might suggest talking about the Nigerian-prince email con when Smith cuts him off, saying, “That's so five years ago!"

"The script is long gone,” Kessler, a retired behavioral health therapist and administrator, said of their improvisational style. The pair, both of whom live in the Columbus area, reached nearly 1,800 people last year alone.

But the funny and engaging presentations don't mean they aren't serious about the subject.

Smith, a retired sales and marketing executive, recalled with sadness a woman in one audience who had been victimized by the grandparent scam, in which the caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble, needing money. She was so embarrassed that she didn't tell her husband. Then, a few months later, her husband fell for the same tactic.

Kessler and Smith met a little more than two years ago, at a Fraud Watch Network training session. Today they volunteer together at a food bank and enjoy monthly dinners with their wives. And they work to keep presentations fresh.

"We have a very similar sense of humor, but I try to surprise him,” Smith said. “That's the fun of it."

Fight Fraud

About 500 volunteers gave scam-prevention presentations and took questions and complaints last year. The AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline (877-908-3360) took 30,000 calls in 2018 and is on track to handle thousands more this year.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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