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The Perfect Scam Celebrates 100 Episodes

Host Bob Sullivan and special guest Amy Nofziger revisit popular episodes

    

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In this 100th episode, host Bob Sullivan revisits some of the most popular episodes and welcomes special guest Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of victim support. Bob and Amy hear from listeners who have used what they’ve learned to avoid becoming victims and offer tips for protecting yourself from scammers. They also discuss why it’s so important to change the narrative of victim blaming. 

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[00:00:00] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. And we come back to this season at a very special moment. This is our 100th episode. That's a hundred stories of pain, struggle, sociopathic criminals, heart-broken victims, but ultimately triumph. Because we know every time a victim tells their story, they save countless others from being victimized by the same crime, and they often help put criminals behind bars. We know this because we have heard from so many of you through the years. After millions of downloads from all those listeners, we get emails, comments, social media posts from people thanking our guests for telling their stories. Why? Because when it was their turn to be targeted by a criminal with a romance scam or a virtual kidnapping, or a Ponzi scheme, they've heard the story before, and they just said no. That's my favorite thing about hosting this podcast, hearing from what we call near misses. People who have been inoculated against scams because they've heard the stories before. And in fact, a little later on, you're going to hear from some listeners with their near miss stories. I love a good happy ending. But before that, we're going to revisit some of our favorite moments from the first 100 episodes of The Perfect Scam. Here we go.

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[00:01:31] I've never seen anybody hide in plain sight like this.

[00:01:35] I felt like I had been thrust into the deepest, darkest, blackest pit. I could never have imagined

[00:01:41] The Ponzi scheme succeeds often by the power of the personality, of the person that's running it, or the promise that whatever it's aimed around holds.

[00:01:53] I stole from people I knew, people I'd never met, and didn't care.

[00:01:57] They pretty much were telling me my mother left me and my father and my brothers. Um, she took the money and ran off. That there was like maybe another man involved, um, like she had a separate second life is what they were telling me.

[00:02:15] This is one of the greatest White House breaches in history. Never before have I been able to find any other cases where someone with a stolen identity has been given access to the Oval Office.

[00:02:26] So when we sat there in mid-October at our dining room table to roll over my 401K fund into an annuity, there were no alarms because we had done it before. We basically emptied our piggy bank.

[00:02:41] He’s a total actor, that’s what I would have to say. He could play the part like a genius. He knew what to say and how to say it.

[00:02:53] It was almost like cultish. I was like somebody had gotten into her brain.

[00:02:58] She changed her voice at any given time. She was able to pretend to be somebody from various countries, to male-female, she could change and pretend to be a victim versus an employee of a credit card company, so it was really, really impressive, or the difference in tone or the inflection that she would use really to change her voice. It was very impressive.

[00:03:25] There's people abroad, you know, targeting our seniors every day, and there's people being caught every day.

[00:03:31] He saw himself as being bullet-proof. Nobody was going to catch him.

[00:03:35] He wrapped religion around his neck, and he used it to get Christians, Christian, god-fearing Christians to, to trust him. That is a very disgusting thing, but unfortunately, it's not uncommon.

[00:03:46] Nobody but him, to this day knows exactly who he is or why he did what he did.

[00:03:53] She says to me, you know, but you're like quote-unquote leading him. I said, okay. She would say, you have a negativity about you. Nobody can help you get rid of the negativity. I said, well okay. She seemed to be honest. She had a very nice way about her. It's frustrating because these people, they're getting with, uh, I'm not going to say murder, but it's not right. It's not right what they've done.

[00:04:13] This man disrespected me in every way possible by scamming me out of every penny I had.

[00:04:20] He told us that it would take about three years, and he would need about a million dollars, and that we were going to be part of a small group of investors. It was a real kick in the stomach after we realized what was going on. I really trusted him.

[00:04:35] When I saw the case and I, I saw the greed of what he was doing, and the fact that he chose to victimize veterans, the, the prosecution was one of the most satisfying ones that I've participated in.

[00:04:46] I think this is my, what I truly believe. Seventy-five percent of this has been uncovered. There's still another 25% out there that I just don't know.

[00:04:57] I hope by telling this story that I save someone from crossing that line that should never be crossed, that line of fraud.

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[00:05:12] Bob: Credit Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzales for that wonderful production piece, that trip down memory lane. Going through those stories again, it really, some of them just rip your heart right out. It's just so tragic how people are victimized by these criminals, but the good news is, the reason we do The Perfect Scam is because one of the oldest ideas of storytelling is show me, don't tell me. So it's one thing to tell someone that romance scams exist, it's another thing to hear from a woman who believes that someone she fell in love with online is really on her way to Afghanistan and needs tens of thousands of dollars in order to get back into the country and these stories all have emotional impact, and hopefully, you remember them. And one day, they will help you experience a near miss. We hear near miss stories all the time in letters and emails and comments. We tell so many sad, frustrating stories, I'm excited to share happy endings with you. For the 100th episode, we're going to bring some of these comments to life for you, and discuss the scams involved with Amy Nofziger, who is director of fraud victim support and co-leads the AARP Fraud Watch Network. Amy, thank you so much for being here.

[00:06:28] Amy Nofziger: Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me. This was really great to be here on the 100th episode.

[00:06:33] Bob: We're excited to have you, and we're very lucky to have you. And Annalea Embree, our producer, is here to help. So Annalea, play the first near miss audio clip please.

[00:06:42] The Grandparent Scam story reported this podcast was almost identical to my situation. It was helpful and reassuring to learn more about the history and ways to combat such calls. I can’t believe I stayed on the line as long as I did before challenging the caller. My love for my grandson overrode my intellect. I’m relieved someone is keeping us aware — thank you. 

[00:07:05] Bob: I’m so glad that this person actually didn’t send money to the criminal. The grandparent scam involves getting a Facebook message or some other kind of message from someone who claims to be a grandchild, directed at a grandparent, and says, “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad, but I’ve gotten in trouble. Can you wire me some money to help me get out of trouble?” And it’s very persuasive, and as that caller said, they trigger the love you have for your grandchildren. So I hope many more people understand this scam exists, and they know to hang up or not respond when these kinds of messages are, are received. But Amy, what did this person do right? 

[00:07:39] Amy Nofziger: Bottom line, this is not how these emergency situations work, right. If you’re grandchild’s in the hospital, you know you will know through the normal mechanisms. If sadly they did get into an accident and are arrested, you know, they’re not going to be calling you and saying they need bail money with a prepaid gift card, right. Our jails do not take payment for bond in prepaid gift cards. So always hang up the phone, and call your loved one at the phone number that you have for them, and I guarantee you, they’ll be exactly where they’re supposed to be, whether at home, in class, or at their jobs. 

[00:08:15] Bob: Boy, it’s so pernicious though, right, the idea that mom, you know, mom and dad will get so mad at me, please, this one time, just don’t tell them. I need your help. I mean I can see why somebody would, would believe that, or their heart would go out to a grandchild who might be in that situation. 

[00:08:30] Amy Nofziger Well, absolutely. And you know, grandparents have the joy of seeing their grandchildren grow up without kind of that parental responsibility, and sometimes they want to be there to help out. So obviously this is going to pull at the emotional heartstrings, and we actually saw an increase during the CO—, you know, COVID, because people were so separated, and they weren’t really keeping tabs on where their family was. We also see this scam increase during spring break because it’s just a perfect current event. Grandma, I was on spring break. Mom doesn’t know. I went with my friends. Please don’t tell her. You know, I can tell you anything, right, so again, I understand that you don’t want to lose the trust of your grandchild, but you also don’t want to lose $10,000. And the interesting thing on this, Bob, we’ve had a lot of grandchildren who have called us, and the guilt that they feel, even though they had nothing to do with this, but the guilt that they feel that their grandparent lost money in a scam to help them out, is really overwhelming to this young person. 

[00:09:29] Bob: I never thought about that, but I mean, of course I would feel terrible in, in either side of this. I often, in these stories, reflect on the fact that there’s love at the core of it, right, like whatever the details are, the grandparent is trying to express love to their grandchildren, and we could certainly, don’t want to, don’t want to get in the way of that, but that’s exactly what the criminals prey on, right? 

[00:09:50] Amy Nofziger: Absolutely. Emotions, they love bomb you, you know, it’s very similar to some of the romance scams out there.

[00:09:56] Bob: Well, our next audio file actually involves a romance scam, so Annalea, play the next audio file for us, please, because this is one of the typical patterns we see.

[00:10:07] My mother just lost her husband of over 30 years. She’s 84. She’s very lonely and has a touch of dementia. Recently she started telling me about this old friend of hers who'd reached out to her. She was so happy about it. At first, I thought she was just confused or making it up. It turns out it was a scammer. It broke my heart to have to explain it to her. Fortunately, she just kept telling him to come over to see her and never gave him any money. It’s so sad that people will do this and prey on sad, lonely people. 

[00:10:37] Bob: I think it’s really important uh first when we deal with this call, Amy, to talk about when people, specific moments in their lives when they are vulnerable. So this person probably is, is, is vulnerable as any kind of victim we ever talk about, right? 

[00:10:54] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, the, the thing to keep in mind is anyone of us at any age are vulnerable to a scam, and it, it might be a certain type of scam, but in this situation, you know, this woman had lost her husband that she was with for 30 years, right. I mean that’s a pretty significant loss. She also, as her daughter said, has a touch of dementia right, so she might not be thinking um, as cognitive as she did before, and she’s lonely. I mean imagine having someone sit next to you for 30 years and all of a sudden that person’s gone, and you see people out in your community as couples, and you want that too, right. We all want to feel loved, so yes, this woman definitely had a lot of susceptibilities and vulnerabilities to being a victim of a romance scam. And as her daughter said, it is sad. It is sad, it is upsetting, it makes me angrier than anything in the world that these criminals are out there. To them it’s a job, right, to them it’s a job. And so think about the person in your life right now that might need somebody to talk to, and pick up the phone and call them, because you want to be the person that they talk to, not a criminal online or over the phone. 

[00:12:04] Bob: We’ve talked in a number of episodes about how hard it is once someone is in an online romance like this that turns out to be a criminal, how hard it is to convince them that that person is a criminal. Sometimes these victims believe the criminal more than they believe their own families, right?

[00:12:21] Amy Nofziger: Oh, absolutely. I have worked with many families, um, one of the families I work with, their mother has been involved for over 16 months with somebody and will not listen to the family, will shut them out, right. And that’s what these criminals do. They’re really, really good at their jobs, and they take over this person’s life, almost brainwash them in a way to convince them that they are the only ones that they can trust, and they say to them, you know, “Well did you tell your children yet about me?” “Um, yeah, and they seemed apprehensive.” “Well I told you they were going to do that because they don’t want you to be happy. They want you this, they want you that.” And so the criminal really turns the victim against their families, and just really isolates them from everybody that they should be trusting in their lives. 

[00:13:07] Bob: So the happy note that I hear in Kimberly’s story here, is that her mom actually told her about this all along the way, so she never cut off her daughter. The relationship was always there, and that might have been a, a big factor in why that a crime didn’t really occur here, do you think? 

[00:13:24] Nofziger: Oh absolutely. And that’s one of the things I say to families of people who are involved in these scams is, always lead any conversation with empathy and kindness, right, because if you do get upset with them, or you start asking a lot of negative questions, they are going to shut down, and they’re not going to have those lines of communication open anymore, and you want that communication. You want them to tell you what they’re doing and where they’re going, and who they’re talking to and things like that. So then you can help them um, along the way, and help them spot the signs of the red flags.

[00:13:59] Bob: We do see signs and patterns in some of these romance scams involving the criminals. Play the next audio file for us please because this is one of the typical patterns we see. 

[00:14:08] I’ve seen a few pictures of military men on my Facebook page. I also noticed that the names on their uniforms were not the same person contacting me. I thought it was a scam, so, of course, I never accepted them as friends. Also, I was reading comments on some things someone said, and I noticed a military person was also scamming that same person’s blog. He was asking for a lot of ladies to friend him. He was posing as an officer, so I looked him up because he was not using words properly, nor acting like an officer. So I wrote to those ladies to beware. I hope they did. And by the way, I got my own scam artist on my blog, not from the military, but from Prince Harry, yeah, right.

[00:14:49] Bob: So Prince Harry is probably not going to try to friend you. Um, um, but, but Amy, why do you think um, so many of these criminals either take on military persona, or the persona of just famous people in general?

[00:15:03] Amy Nofziger: I mean, bottom line, it comes down to credibility, right. Credibility and respect. I mean we respect our men and women in uniform. We admire them, we appreciate them. I mean they’re heroes to us, right, so we would never assume that these people were lying to us. And we sometimes don’t even think that it could be someone like a criminal who stole their photo, stole their identity, and is using them to exploit you. We hear a lot about this, and when I speak to victims on the phone, like I do every day, and I talk to people who are, you know, involved in a romance scam, some of the first questions I ask were, are they claiming to be in the military? And the people will say, yes, how did you know? I’m like, ‘cause that’s the number one thing that they claim to be doing, right, ‘cause it’s an easy out. You know, they’re overseas, they’re not always connected to you. Oh, their wi-fi’s spotty, or oh, they need food, or oh, they need this. You know, it’s a great kind of imposter thing to do to pretend you’re from the military. But just know it’s not. Our men and women over, you know, wherever they are, um, you know, keeping us safe in, in our country, you know, they don’t really have time to be on Facebook and, and texting strangers. They have enough people to talk about, right. So that’s what I always talk about, is if you have get a friend request from someone that is not friends with anybody else in your network, just remember what our parents used to tell us — stranger danger. Do not accept that friend request. Do not let that person into your social media profile. 

[00:16:30] Bob: And, and I’ll tell you, so many of these criminals make me angry, but the whole idea of stolen valor is just so disgusting and disturbing, so and using that to take advantage of people, that you know just doubles how disgusting I think that is. 

[00:16:43] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s all disgusting, but you’re exactly right, because you know it’s interesting, a lot of these men and women whose profile pictures are being stolen, they have no idea that a criminal is using their image, what they worked so hard for to have their, you know, military picture, you know, their professional; that’s their life, and it’s being used to steal money from an innocent person. And it’s almost like there’s double victimization here. 

[00:17:10] Bob: And again, the good news here is, uh Tekla, not only spotted the scam herself, but she actually warned some friends and said, hey, don’t accept communication with this person. So, I think that’s great. 

[00:17:23] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, she, she’s one of those wonderful fraud fighters out there that we, we love and, and obviously I do it for my profession, but I do it in my free time, too. I’ll be on, you know whether it’s a social media or something like that, and I’ll see a response that says, hey, I like your profile picture. You look nice. Do you want to friend request me? Report, right, and it’s just like, no, I don’t want to friend request you. You don’t need, I mean you might need friends. I don’t need friends from people I don’t know, right. I am perfectly fine not connecting with you. And so, do that, right, report these imposters that whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, wherever it is on social media that you see them. 

[00:18:01] Bob: And check in with your friends, that’s what friendship is for. I think that’s just great. Look out for each other there. Okay, moving on from romance scams, this next audio file we’re going to play from David involves extended warranties and spam phone calls. 

[00:18:14] April 20th was a slow day at work, and I couldn’t resist another opportunity to renew my car’s extended warranty. So I answered the phone, pressed one, and was connected to Rashad. I expressed interest in extending the warranty on my car, and was asked what make and year it was. I replied that it’s a 1985 DeLorean, that it’s powered by plutonium, and that it keeps moving back and forth in time from 1885 to 2015, leaving me without reliable transportation in 2021. I couldn’t quite make out the reply, but he sounded very confused then disconnected. 

[00:18:51] Amy Nofziger: Hmmm, I love it, I love it. 

[00:18:53] Bob: Now we tell people all the time, just hang up, don’t engage with these criminals at all. The longer you stay on the line with them, the more likely maybe something will trigger in you and you’ll um, you’ll end up going down a path you don’t want to go down; however, this is pretty funny, right? 

[00:19:09] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, it is funny. It took, I mean I was listening to him, and I took, it took a second to figure out where he was going with this, and then I, I heard the DeLorean, right. Um, you know, so what David had here was a very creative refusal script, right. A refusal script is something that you have already preplanned in your mind when you are connected with, you know, one of these scam attempts and you know for a lot of people, especially older people who grew up in a time of, you know, being polite and listening, and you know, all of that kind of stuff, you know, it’s hard for them to get off the phone, so refusal scripts are a great way. This one is certainly very creative, um, but some refusal scripts that people say when they get a phone call is, “I’m sorry, I don’t do business over the phone. Send me something in the mail.” I’ve even heard, “Oh my daughter, you know, works for my local police department. You know, why don’t you call her and ask her this question.” Um, I do, however, as you said earlier, Bob, I do not recommend, one, picking up the phone unless you absolutely know who it is. Let it go to voicemail. Also, I do not recommend if you do by chance pick up the phone, do not press 1 like David did in this situation. And the reason is, is because when you press 1, then that phone system, however it is calling you, knows that that is an active phone number and there is somebody on that other end that will engage with them. So you will just pretty much mark your phone number as someone that needs to be called again and again and again. Right, so even though he um, you know had a, had a great refusal script there, I still don’t recommend for people to pick up the phone and play with these scammers. 

[00:20:47] Bob: And there are some scams that if you press the right combination of numbers you end up with a very large long-distance bill or some kind of phone charge, so you want to avoid, just avoid these interactions all together. But I love Amy, the idea of a refusal script, so I’m gonna make you give me one, let’s practice, okay? I’m calling you. Ring ring...

[00:21:08] Amy Nofziger: Hello?

[00:21:09] Bob: Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m with the Fireman’s Benevolent Association, and we make calendars every year, and if you would just give us $49 today, we’ll mail you a calendar and put you on our list, and you’ll be supporting the local fire department. What, how many calendars can I put you down for?

[00:21:24] Amy Nofziger: Oh Bob, I really appreciate all the work you’re doing, but I do not do business over the phone. Give me your website and I’ll do my research and get back with you and see if it’s an opportunity I want to participate in. 

[00:21:35] Bob: But you know, the truth is, a lot of people don’t do that, so if you would just give me a credit card number right now, it would really, really help out the department. 

[00:21:42] Amy Nofziger: Uh, I understand that you have a job to do, Bob, but um, I am not going to do that, so I don’t want to waste any more, more of your time, and have a great day. Click. 

[00:21:51] Bob: Wow, I couldn’t get through at all. 

[00:21:54] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, you know, and that’s the thing, that’s the thing I think people need to remember is you own your phone. You pay that phone bill. Not the person calling you. You do, so take control back of your phone and even for some people, right, I mean I do this every day but there’s times when, you know, I’m cooking dinner, the dog’s barking, the kids need help with homework, and I pick up the phone, and I’m kind of caught off guard. That’s why having a refusal script, even printed out or you know write it down on a post-it note by your phone, um, to just remind you, just, you know, so when you get in that mode and you’re just busy and someone calls you, it’s right there. I've even had people put one the back of their door, because yes, there are still people out there that answer the door, um, I just look at my ring camera, but um, people just have it on the back of their door so when they go to the door, they can something like, I don’t do business through the door. If you want to leave me something, that’s great. 

[00:22:47] Bob: Again, I love the idea of, of a refusal script. It’s just a simple tool that helps you get off the phone as quickly as possible, which is absolutely the right thing to do. The less you say, the quicker you click, the better, so have a line in mind, as simple as “I can’t talk right now, sorry goodbye”– I think that’s great.

[00:23:08] Bob: Um you mentioned taking back control of your phone, our last audio file involves robocalls, it’s one of everyone’s favorite topics.

 [00:23:16] I received one of these calls two or three years ago. They said I had broken tax laws and could be arrested. They said I owed some unspecified amount of taxes; however, here’s what they didn’t know. I retired from the IRS after almost 40 years working for that agency. I called their bluff, and they threatened to have an agent at my door in 15 minutes. I know the real IRS would be hard pressed to get someone at my door in 15 days. The IRS would never initiate contact in this manner.

[00:23:58] Bob: Okay, so this is very bad luck for the scammer to be trying to pull an IRS scam and call someone who had recently retired after 40 years working at the IRS. So this person knew enough to know that this wasn’t a legitimate IRS call, but do you get a lot of complaints about these sorts of IRS debt calls? 

[00:24:16] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely, whether it’s the IRS, Social Security imposter scam, any government agency the criminals use. So if someone says they’re with the Social Security Administration or the IRS, you know we listen. We listen to them. But you know, just like Joe said in his call, the IRS would never initiate contact in this manner. I love his thing about how, you know, the IRS agent’s going to come to his door in 15 minutes, and he’s like, I couldn’t even get someone in 15 days. I say that the same time about the IRS, you know making these calls. I’m sorry, the IRS does not have the capacity to call you, and certainly, if you try to call them back and they pick it up on the first ring, it’s not the IRS. But bottom line, the IRS or any government agency will never initiate contact in this way, and they will certainly, and listen to this, certainly never, ever, ever ask for payment in a prepaid gift card, cryptocurrency, wire transfer, or one of those money transfer apps that we call peer-to-peer apps. Never, ever, ever, ever. And I can’t reiterate that enough. Um, they will never ask payment in those ways. That’s a number one red flag. 

[00:25:36] Bob: So, are you saying they’re never ask for payment that way? 

[00:25:39] Amy Nofziger: They will, yeah, exactly, right. Let me say it one more time, Bob. 

[00:25:42] Bob: I just want to be clear, yeah. 

[00:25:44] Amy Nofziger: I want everyone to repeat after me. We actually, that’s one thing we do when we go um, talk to people. We have them take a pledge that says, I will never, ever, ever buy a prepaid gift card for somebody that says, you know, I owe a debt, I owe the government, anything like that. Because if we can just stop that, we can stop a lot of these scams. 

[00:26:06] Bob: I pledge to never make a payment to the IRS using a gift card or a peer-to-peer app. I think that’s great.

[00:26:11] Amy Nofziger: There you go.

[00:26:12] Bob: Yeah, um, but I do, I do want to stress a point that you made there, that when the IRS calls, I mean those three letters just strike fear into people, and you, you sit up right away, and, and it puts you off your game. It puts you; it knocks your defenses down sometimes, right? 

[00:26:28] Amy Nofziger: Oh, absolutely, even when you get a letter in the mail from the IRS, you're like, wait, what? What happened? What did I do? What’s going on? Usually we only hear from the IRS when something is wrong, so we automatically go to that dark place, but just know that is not how the IRS or any other government agency deals with any issues with you. They do not call you unsolicited over the phone. It will always come in the mail. Now, granted, if you have a case with the IRS and you’ve been working with somebody for a while, sure, you might talk to them on the phone, but again, they will never ask payment in prepaid gift card. 

[00:27:02] Bob: Well the best thing about all of these stories is that they all have happy endings. Nobody actually sent money to then criminals and in, I think in every case, these people used knowledge. They used knowledge to fight back and to deflect this scam, so it rolled off them like water on a duck’s back. So I love a good happy ending, don’t you?

[00:27:20] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:27:22] Bob: And I know, Amy, you’re on the front line getting all these phone calls, so I appreciate all the work that you do, and I appreciate all the people who call you and tell you what’s happened. So how do they get in touch with you? 

[00:27:32] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely. Reporting, whether you’ve been a victim or whether you’ve just been a target, please tell us about these scams that are happening. You can call us at AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360, and you will speak to one of our 60 trained fraud specialists that we have all over the country, and they’ll work one-on-one with you to help you through your situation. 

[00:28:03] Bob: I just think it’s fantastic there’s a phone number where people can call in the middle of one of these things if they have questions, if they’re not sure is this a scam, is it real, they can call and ask. And uh there’s very few places where people answer the phone so quickly. Uh, one thing that they won’t do, and I’d like to make a separate discussion on this, is tell you that it’s your fault. Now, uh, Amy, like a lot of people who live in urban environments, I had my car broken into recently. Um, it’s the, maybe the third time in the last five or six years or so, and I am sad to report that the first thing that happens when you call the police often to report that your car’s been broken into is they say, “Did you leave something valuable in the car?” 

[00:28:42] Amy Nofziger: Yep.

[00:28:43] Bob: Right? 

[00:28:44] Amy Nofziger: Yep, yep.

[00:28:45] Bob: I'm like no, because this has been happening to me since I was a teenager, and you can see in their eyes what they want to basically say is, it’s your fault, isn’t it? That’s why. Your car was broken into because you did something stupid, and you know what, it makes you feel so small and angry, and I often wonder how that actually helps prevent the next crime. We call this victim blaming, and it’s a small thing in my life, but it’s a really big thing for people who are the victims of criminals in romance scams and IRS scams, the kind of scams we often talk about. Amy, why is it so important to change the language that we use when we talk about victims of scams? 

[00:29:19] Amy Nofziger: Well, we need to change the language because we need to help these victims understand that they’re not alone and there are people out there to support them. This is not your fault. Maybe you didn’t know the red flags. We’ll help you figure them out for the next time. But it’s not your fault you fell in love. It’s not your fault you loved your grandchild. It’s not your fault you thought you were in trouble with the IRS. It’s the criminal’s fault, right, you should not be blamed for this crime. However, in society we do blame them, and I think sometimes this just goes back to the fact that we like to point our fingers at other people and say, oh, I must be smarter than you. It has nothing to do with your intelligence. I’ve talked to doctors, lawyers, PhDs, the people in society that we put the most intelligence label on, all been victims. It has to do with your emotional status at that moment of time, and then some of those life stages. Just like you know, if you’ve been widowed, divorced, isolated, and honestly who hasn’t been isolated in the last 18 months, 19 months, right? At that moment, it’s like the perfect storm, and if you get targeted by a scam, you might be a victim. And I’ve heard from people that say, oh well, you know, I graduated from Harvard. This will never happen to me. You know what, it probably will happen to you because then you’re not paying attention to the red flags. 

[00:30:37] Bob: There’s also this social cost to it, right. I mean when a police officer tells him or herself that it was really the driver’s fault that their car was broken into, well then nothing has to change, right, because there’s a reason this happened. You know, if people would just not fall for these scams, then there would be no scams. But that’s just an excuse for society to not look at the problem, I think, don’t you? 

[00:30:59] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, and I think sometimes it’s just because this problem is so big that you know we want to be able to have some sort of control over it, and so the control that, whether it’s law enforcement, public, news, whoever it is, is by blaming the victim and pointing the finger. But you know, we can stop these scams. We can stop them at every level. We can stop them with prevention. We can stop them with interventions, right, you know, there’s billions of dollars that are leaving um, the American economy on these prepaid gift cards going overseas, you know, but they’re not a regulated entity. There's hardly a warning sign. How are we letting that happen? But again, we’re not blaming them, we’re blaming the victim. Also, the criminals, you know, this is a job to them. It’s kind of sad that the job um, criminalizing someone is better than the job that they could get, you know, in a regular field, right. So there’s so many levels that we, in society, can have impact on. Um, but the least of them is blaming the victim. 

[00:31:59] Bob: Can, can you give me a couple of examples of victim blaming language that you would like to see adjusted or changed? 

[00:32:05] Amy Nofziger: Well, even in one of the stories today, one of the individuals said, I didn’t fall for it, right. Fall for it has this implied notion of blaming yourself, of, you know, ignorance, of stupidity, right? So we say, you know, you weren’t a victim of… You know, and one of the things I say to family members, law enforcement, whomever, is instead of trying to tell the victim what they could have done to make it not have happened, like right, like just with your, you know, valuables in the car, it’s saying let’s, let’s focus on the future. It’s already happened. So that’s not going to change anything. So there is nothing wrong with saying to a victim of these financial crimes, I am so sorry this happened to you. Together we’re going to figure out a way to move forward and get this reported. Simple. Empathy, kindness, communication; the money’s gone. Right, the money is gone, it’s gone, it’s gone. So let’s find a path forward. But if we say, well why didn’t you tell me? Why did you pick up the phone? Why did you do that? Right, that’s not going to lead to anything positive, and these people need to recover. Sometimes I hear from victims, it’s not the financial recovery that’s so devastating, it’s the emotional recovery. They’ve lost trust in themselves, they’ve lost trust in the system, they’ve lost trust in their family. So again, it’s just, just say, I’m so sorry this happened to you. 

[00:33:28] Bob: And, and we also know shame, shame is a horrible feeling, and shame is the reason why many of these crimes are never reported. So many people just suffer in silence after losing, not just financially, but also emotionally, and then they’re afraid if they come forward, people will do that. They’ll be blamed, they’ll be embarrassed, and so we need to make it as easy as possible for victims to just come forward and tell their stories.

[00:33:50] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I think that’s part of our main mission and vision on the Helpline is to help these people, you know, recover emotionally. Um, I’ll heard from people, just the other day someone said, “I, I just can’t, I can’t even believe I did this. I, I am just so stupid. I’m just such an idiot,” and I just said, “I need you to stop because you’re not. You are not an idiot, and you cannot let this one moment in your life define the rest of it," right? Don’t give them that power, right. So it’s, again, it’s like, the money wasn’t an issue to her, not because she had a lot of it, but it was that emotional. She just, she didn’t know how to move forward, and I think that’s why the Helpline is just, has so much impact for these victims as we help them move forward and, and find kind of the next step of what they should do. 

[00:34:39] Bob: Amy, I want you to go back and express my gratitude for, to every one of those 60 people you have who answer phone calls. I’m sure it’s very hard. I know sometimes it’s; it really weighs on me listening to the stories that I hear on The Perfect Scam, and they do it all day long. So I really, I really appreciate what they do, and I know a lot of people do. 

[00:34:57] Amy Nofziger: Well I appreciate you saying that. They’re, they’re kind of the unsung heroes of our volunteers here at AARP, and what they do on a daily basis is just amazing. I mean all of the volunteers are amazing, but to have impact on one person’s life, um, and they do it day in and day out, and it is really remarkable. 

[00:35:18] Bob: Amy Nofziger from AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. Thank you very much for being here today, and thank you for helping us celebrate the 100th episode. 

[00:35:24] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, happy 100th episode. I don’t know, do we say anniversary, birthday? Just happy 100th! Thanks, Bob.

[00:35:31] Bob: What song do we sing? We’ll come up with a song. 

[00:35:33] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, there we go. 

[00:35:35] Bob: There is a lot of people to thank at a time like this. I'd like to thank prior hosts, Will Johnson, Michele Kosinski, and Julie Getz, who is also Executive Producer, for all they have done to create this amazing podcast from scratch. Thanks also to producers Annalea Embree, and Haley Nelson, past producers, Megan DeMagnus and Brook Ellis, and of course, our audio engineers, Julio Gonzales and Hector Rodriguez. A big thank you to the Fraud Watch Network and all of AARP for supporting this important work through the years. Thanks to all the guests who have taken such big risks to step forward and tell their stories. They really are heroes. And most of all, thank you listeners for giving us your time and attention and your heartstrings through all these emotional journeys. Some of our stories are hard to hear, but they are really important stories to tell. We have a great season of true crime stories coming up for you soon, so please subscribe so you don't miss an episode.

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The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.

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