John Keatley (photographer) and Jesse Lenz (illustrator) wardrobe styling and grooming by Cara Aeschliman
Memo to con artists everywhere: Don't mess with these folks. That's Doug Shadel, below, front and center, point man for a crew of fraud-fighting experts from the association's Washington-state office. Shadel and his team — along with AARP Foundation and key colleagues around the country — are the driving forces behind AARP's Fraud Watch Network, a crime-fighting army that by the end of last year had signed up almost 500,000 Americans to fight back against scammers, cheats and criminals.
Fraud never sleeps. It's global, organized, tech-savvy and relentless. Whether online, by phone, through a dating website, or in "You May Have Won a Free Prize" offers in your mailbox, criminals will find you. Every year more than 16 million of us have our identities stolen by rip-off artists, who make off with an estimated $24.7 billion. The FBI says romance scams alone swindled the unwary out of more than $82 million in the last six months of 2014. And of the 1.5 million fraud complaints logged by the Federal Trade Commission last year, nearly half came from people 50 or older.
Shadel — author of the 2012 book Outsmarting the Scam Artists — began his fraud-fighting career 35 years ago, after, as an investigator in the Washington state attorney general's office, he interviewed an octogenarian victim. "Doris was 83 years old and had lost over $100,000 to a series of free-prize and sweepstakes scams," says Shadel. "It lit a fire in me that burns to this day. How could anyone exploit such sweet, vulnerable elders and still sleep at night?"
In this issue, we bring you the latest of Shadel's fraud-team investigations, which details the sad story of a smart and sophisticated 50-something widow who was conned out of more than $300,000 by an online-dating scammer. "It's a tragic tale, but one that makes the point that anyone, no matter what age or success level, can fall prey, given the right set of circumstances and the right con man," says Shadel.
And finally, a tip of our hat to an army of a different kind: AARP consumer-protection watchdog Ron Burley. In his eight years with us, Burley has resolved 26,871 cases and recouped nearly $5 million for our members.
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