Some of the most heartbreaking calls AARP receives are from people who fear that they or their parents have been scammed.
Recognizing the growing threat from telephone and internet fraud, AARP set up the Fraud Watch Network in 2013.
The response has been overwhelming. Last year alone, AARP experts fielded tens of thousands of calls from people seeking advice from the Fraud Watch Network helpline. And the network has reached out to consumers in many other ways, such as with a fully updated fraud resource and information center on the AARP website. It has also established critical links to federal and state law enforcement organizations, to make sure it is giving people the most up-to-date information.
At the helm is Kathy Stokes, director of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. She says the mission is critical. “We're here because scammers steal billions of dollars a year.”
Older people are prime targets for crooks, in part because they have assets like Social Security checks and retirement savings.
"Our goal is to help people understand what a scam looks like, so if one comes along, they'll be less likely to fall victim,” Stokes says.
"We do a whole number of things, from online tip sheets about different types of scams to ‘Scam Jams,’ “ she says. “That's like a mini convention where we have presentations from law enforcement, plus shredder trucks so people can safely dispose of papers containing personal information.”
Other online resources include a scam-tracking map, which shows areas where scams are being reported; informative webinars; and a podcast, The Perfect Scam. And there are free Watchdog Alerts; if you sign up online, you'll get emails that tell you how to avoid various scams.
The Fraud Watch Network also provides support through its helpline at 877-908-3360. “You can call this number to report a scam, and a trained volunteer will walk you through what to do next,” Stokes says.
Scams are like viruses, she says: They are constantly evolving to become resistant to current remedies. So the Fraud Watch Network keeps changing as well, to develop new ways to help you stay safe.