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Top Tips From 'The Perfect Scam' Podcast

Learn how to protect yourself from scams and fraud in this episode

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Bob Edwards: Hello, I'm Bob Edwards.

Mike Ellison: And I'm Mike Ellison.

Bob Edwards: With an AARP Take on Today.

Happy Halloween, Mike. What are your kids dressing up as this year?

Mike Ellison: Happy Halloween, Bob. Let's see. Well, Bob, I don't know if you've seen the more recent relaunch of the Spider-Man series.

Bob Edwards: Oh, I mean to get to that right away. Yes, absolutely.

Mike Ellison: Oh, okay. Come on, Bob. I know that's on your high list of priorities. But, then there was a great movie called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, right? And it's all animated, and there are multiple spider people, spider women... there's even a spider pig that exist in these multi-dimensions. It's kind of hard to explain. But anyway, from this iteration of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, my daughter is going as Gwen Stacy, which is the female spider person, and my son is going as Miles, who is the new lead protagonist Spider-Man.

Bob Edwards: Okay. Doesn't sound terribly scary to me.

Mike Ellison: There are... You mean the film or their costumes?

Bob Edwards: The characters, they sound like amiable arachnids.

Mike Ellison: The characters themselves are very amiable. But the bad people, the villains that they must fight, are terrifying.

Bob Edwards: Speaking of disguising identities and intentions, today we are unveiling secrets of scammers, the ultimate tricksters.

Mike Ellison: Fraudulent schemes cost Americans more than $18 billion last year, and people 50 and over are often the prime targets.

Bob Edwards: There are many different ways that scammers are coming after your money, whether it's posing as a fake charity or the IRS, pulling on your heartstrings on popular dating sites, or simply stealing your identity.

Mike Ellison: That's absolutely right, Bob. And to help our listeners fight back, we are bringing you tips from AARP's The Perfect Scam podcast series. The Perfect Scam provides listeners with insights into how scams are perpetrated, told through personal stories of victims, con artists, and investigators, and provides fraud fighting tips from trusted experts.

Bob Edwards: The show is co-hosted by AARP's Fraud Watch Network ambassador Frank Abagnale. Abagnale's story was told in his bestselling book, Catch Me If You Can, and in the 2002 movie of the same name, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Abagnale has been associated with the FBI for more than four decades, has advised and consulted with hundreds of financial institutions and government agencies around the world.

You will also hear the voice of The Perfect Scam's co-host, Will Johnson.

Mike Ellison: And you can listen into The Perfect Scam at, or Apple Podcast, Google Play Music, Spotify, and Stitcher.

So now we're going to hear a soundbite from Retired Veteran's Photo Used In Online Dating Scam.

Will Johnson: Frank, we are talking this week about a scam that involves... identity theft is really what it is in social media, and in particular, targeting people who are in the military. In general, the image of the military man or woman in uniform is often used by scammers, right?

Frank Abagnale: Absolutely. And as I remind people all the time about social media, I'm not on social media, but I remind people the three things to remember about being on social media is one, you never want to tell someone where you were born. Two, you never want to tell someone your date of birth. And third, you do not want to post a picture on social media, a picture that I would say would be a driver's license, passport, graduation type photo.

Will Johnson: You think there are ways that we can protect ourselves and still be on social media?

Frank Abagnale: Yeah, I think we can. We just used to use it smart. I have three sons and five grandchildren. They like social media. They're on Facebook. They enjoy doing that. But I have taught them, as their father and their grandfather, what things to put on social media, what things not to put on social media. Not to display photographs of themselves like that, and not to tell people where they were born and their date of birth, and to be a little private about their private information that they have no reason to be discussing on Facebook or sharing with people on Facebook.

Bob Edwards: Soundbite two from John Donald Cody Stole Millions In A Veteran's Charity Scam.

Will Johnson: Does any of this shock you, this charity scam? It's a Navy charity, so obviously that's tugging at the heartstrings of military folks.

Frank Abagnale: No, it doesn't, because again, it is so easy to even set up a fake charity, to be able to go and just get a name, create a very elaborate website, might be on the website, you might say we've been around for 25 years. If people don't check those things, you can say anything you want. You can make it look as elaborate as you want, and again, there's a return on your investment. You're going to make a lot of money, with people starting to send you money. Even if they're just sending you $10 an individual, that money adds up to a great deal of money. So there are, again, so many charities scams out there. And then when we get into a political time where we're getting into people running for office, then you have even more scams that go on, that you want to support this person, but they really have nothing to do with that person who's running, they're just their name to get you to send them money.

Will Johnson: How can you check to know if a candidate or political organization or group is legitimate?

Frank Abagnale: Two ways. First of all, there is, of course, the Fraud Watch Network. So you can call The Fraud Watch Network and basically find out, through speaking to an advisor on the Fraud Watch team, that basically can tell you we don't have a listing for this charity. We've already had complaints about this charity. There's the Better Business Bureau that keeps very good records about these charities, who they are, whether they're real or not. And of course, the attorney general of your state, who can verify whether that charity's real or not. [inaudible] will act if you sent money to that charity, but you come to find out it's not legitimate. The attorney general in that state is more apt to take action about that than any other law enforcement agency, local or federal.

Mike Ellison: Bob, you served in the military. What do you think about people not only using the uniform to scam people but then scamming actual military personnel?

Bob Edwards: And preying on people who would normally give to charity. That's the double whammy. That's horrible, that you prey on people's openness and generosity.

Mike Ellison: Right.

Bob Edwards: These are people that want to help. They want to give you something.

Mike Ellison: People who actually served, right?

Bob Edwards: Right. How horrible is that? You're not only picking on people serving your country, but people with open hearts that want to help.

Mike Ellison: Yeah, it's tough. I have a lot of those conversations with some of my younger cousins, nieces, nephews, and my mom, as well, because she's in that target group of people that are targeted with these scams, especially email. Like you get something that looks like it's from Apple, it looks like it's from Amazon, and when you get those emails, if you click on who the email's from, then you'll actually see an address that does not look familiar. Like it might say Apple, but then if you click on it, it has something linked to some random university, or student account, or something overseas. That's something I talked to my mother about. And basically, my rule of thumb with her is if you didn't initiate the communication, either by email or by phone, and you don't recognize who's reaching out to you, just assume it's not legit, and you'd be safe.

Bob Edwards: And Frank talking about his grandchildren. Social media came along after I was grown up, didn't have to worry about this.

Mike Ellison: Yeah.

Bob Edwards: And my kids were pretty savvy. They were pretty far along, too. But you can imagine, 10, 11, 12, they want to be on social media. They go, "Mom, give me a phone, give me an iPad."

Mike Ellison: That's right. And they don't know discretion.

Bob Edwards: Exactly.

Mike Ellison: They don't even know how to protect themselves and their family.

Bob Edwards: And the whole culture of social media is revelation. Tell you all about yourself, your hopes, your dreams, your ambitions, your best friends, where you live, what you do.

Mike Ellison: Everything.

Bob Edwards: Golden stuff for a predator.

Mike Ellison: You're giving people, you're giving them a blueprint for scamming you.

Bob Edwards: Yeah. Here I am, take me.

Mike Ellison: You're the road map. It's basically everything excepting the keys to your front door.

Bob Edwards: It's a neon sign.

Mike Ellison: Yeah. So sometimes the good guys win, Bob. And we're going to hear about the FCC and TripAdvisor taking down the robocall king.

Bob Edwards: Excellent. Bring it.

Will Johnson: So Frank, I'm talking about robocalls, the illegal ones. We all get them, and they seem to come in waves. Sometimes you hear about them in the news, and I feel like I'll get... a week will go by where I don't get any, then I'll have a few days where a bunch are coming in, and then I'll hear something in the news like robocalls are on an upswing.

Frank Abagnale: Yeah, absolutely, because people have probably read within the last few months that they say now that 50% of all robocalls are scams, and it's probably more than that. I've been doing this for 43 years, lecturing about scams, writing books about scams, articles about scams. And what I've noticed, when I started talking about scams 40 plus years ago, scams were committed by writing letters. So there was a Nigerian letter, they sent out thousands of letters. The stamps on the letters were counterfeits, so it didn't really cost them anything to send the letters. But they could only send so many letters, 10,000 letters, 25,000 letters. But they were only looking for 0.1% of response. If someone responded, they were going to make a lot of money.

Then we got into emails, and we all got spam and all these emails coming over with all these scams from Nigeria. But they could reach now millions of people by sending out emails, and again, only looking for that 0.1% to respond. And then, of course, they moved into robocalls, because robocalls became a new technology that they had access to, and they could make, not millions, but billions of robocalls annually. And again, only looking for that small percentage of return where you get a response.

So as we always say, as technology moves along, criminals move along with it. Technology breeds crime. They just find another way to use that technology to help them go and get it is they're trying to do, a scam or whatever it is they're trying to perpetrate, just makes it that much easier. So robocalls are just a move along 40 years of technology to where we are today with robocalls. And if eventually robocalls go away and some new method of technology comes out to communicate with people, they'll use that form of communicating. The more people they can reach in the quickest amount of time, the more money they're going to make.

Bob Edwards: Soundbite four from You've Got Mail with Frank Abagnale.

Mike Ellison: Do you think that rhyme was intentional?

Robocall: Really sorry to have missed you, Rachel. I'm just calling to follow up on your business line of credit. It actually looks like I have you pre-approved for up to $250,000. Give me a call on the number that pops up on your caller ID. I'd really like to catch up and go over some of the rates and terms. Have a great day.

Julie: Right? Rachel?

Will Johnson: This is great news from Rachel. Should Julie... Frank, should Julie call back?

Frank Abagnale: Absolutely not.

Julie: Rachel sounds so friendly, like we're best friends.

Will Johnson: And you've got a lot of money.

Frank Abagnale: And Rachel uses your name for familiarity, and then she basically gives you the big pitch line, I'm going to give you $250,000. And you can understand that some people may even say, well, this might be a scam, but I want to listen, because I might be able to get $250,000 on a loan from these people. But obviously those are just pitches that people make. Once they get you on the phone, they're really looking for information. So obviously, if you were someone who did call back and say, yes, I'm absolutely interested in this, even if it was a smaller loan, $40,000, $20,000. Then the next question, of course, well, let me take your application over the phone. Name, address, social security number, date of birth, credit card numbers. Who do you bank with? What's your bank account number? As you would in any credit application.

Will Johnson: And Julie will be living on the dark web after that.

Frank Abagnale: That's right.

Julie: Scary.

Bob Edwards: You know what I like? In the modern world of business, you have to be the person you are on your credit card. So I know when someone calls me and says, "Hello, Robert," I don't know this guy because nobody who knows me calls me Robert.

Mike Ellison: Right.

Bob Edwards: Unless they have my information somewhere and want to take my money.

Mike Ellison: I always wonder how deep the well goes. The people that are calling you, are they all in on the scam, and they know? Or are there some people who are unsuspecting, and they think that they're working for a legitimate company? I'd be interested to know.

Bob Edwards: Frank mentioned Nigeria. I feel so sorry for anybody from Nigeria, because all any American knows about your country is that there's this guy who wants you to send him $5,000.

Mike Ellison: Yeah, yeah.

Bob Edwards: For Nigeria.

Mike Ellison: With having lots of friends from Nigeria, from both Igbo and Yoruba tribes, there is a lot more about the country that I think they would love for people to know.

Bob Edwards: Oh, you think? Gosh.

Mike Ellison: Yeah.

Bob Edwards: And last but certainly not least, Love Online Leads To International Lockup.

Will Johnson: But can we bring up the red flag again?

Frank Abagnale: Please. Here, I have this relationship with someone. It's great. We're over the phone or over the internet. I think this girl is interested in me, though I'd never met her. I sent her money to come see me, but she didn't come. But I still have this great relationship. And then boom, would you take these documents for me out of the country and bring them to another guy? That's the red flag. Again, asking you to do something now that's out of the ordinary. That's where that red flag should have lit up.

Bob Edwards: That is weird. But that should send some signals.

Mike Ellison: It really is serious. And when you think about... these are difficult times. People are lonely, they're looking for companionship. There's not nefarious intentions on the part of the citizen, the person who's looking for love, and online platforms are legitimate now, in terms of people meeting each other and socializing. And then once again, right? Tugging on people's heartstrings and using their emotions against them.

Bob Edwards: They would probably have to know something about you to gain your confidence and get you off your game, you know?

Mike Ellison: Right. But think about this.

Bob Edwards: Put your guard down.

Mike Ellison: We've been normalized, right, to share so much of our personal information. So once you make contact and the person can look at your online profile and, "Oh, you like Sinatra, too." And "Oh, you know my favorite movie is also... Wow."

Bob Edwards: That's right. It's all there.

Mike Ellison: Wow. We were meant to be together.

Bob Edwards: All your likes.

Mike Ellison: All your likes.

Bob Edwards: Yeah.

Mike Ellison: It's a blueprint and a roadmap.

Bob Edwards: For more tips from Frank Abagnale, check out his latest AARP book, Scam Me If You Can. Here, Abagnale reveals the methods used by the world's most skillful con artists to steal billions of dollars each year from unsuspecting consumers.

Mike Ellison: And to learn more about how to protect yourself from falling victim to a scam, visit That's And if you think you've been a target of a scam, contact AARP's Fraud Watch Network help line at (877) 908-3360, (877) 908-3360 to reach AARP's Fraud Watch Network.

Bob, as always, we are here to help people take on today. To take it on, not just to give our take on the day. And we'd love for you to become a subscriber on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, and other apps, and be sure to rate our show, as well.

Bob Edwards: I'm Bob Edwards.

Mike Ellison: And I'm Mike Ellison.

Bob Edwards: Thanks for listening.

Scammers will try every trick in the book to take your personal information and money. Don’t let them. Tune in to get the best tips from The Perfect Scam podcast to protect yourself from crooks.

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