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Six Scams on the Rise

AARP Fraud Watch Network shares scam trends

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Amid quickly changing technology and social trends, criminals are constantly developing new methods of defrauding consumers. In this bonus episode, Bob talks with Amy Nofziger of the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline to discuss six of the fastest-growing scams. These include new forms of check fraud, celebrity impersonation, sweepstakes and grandparent scams, along with the technology of voice printing and scams related to the upcoming summer Olympics. 

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Full transcript


[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:04] Amy Nofziger They're like, "Oh, you know, Celine Dion, she, she just loves your comment so much. She's starting this charity, and she really could use your help supporting it. Would you be able to Venmo her $5,000 to start up her charity?" And that's how they start.


[00:00:05] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan.


[00:00:27] Bob: Voice printing, delayed action sweepstakes, check cooking. Criminals are always cooking up new ways to steal money from you and we here at The Perfect Scam are devoted to making sure you know about these new scams as soon as possible. So today, we bring you a special bonus episode with Amy Nofziger who runs the AARP Fraud Watch Network's toll-free helpline. Staffed by professionals and volunteers, the helpline takes thousands of calls every year from consumers who are worried they might be the target of a scam or someone they love is a target of a scam. All those calls can act like a canary in a coal mine, an early warning system about new fraud trends, so Amy is here today to discuss six disturbing, fast-growing scams she's heard about from helpline callers. And, of course, tell us what we can do to protect ourselves. We begin with Amy telling us just a bit more about the Fraud Watch Network and the work of our volunteers there.


[00:01:29] Amy Nofziger: The Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for anyone of any age and you do not have to be an AARP member to utilize any of the fantastic resources that we have. We have our Perfect Scam, right here, right now. The, the best um, podcast out there that talks about the latest frauds and scams. We have a Scam Tracking Map you can go on and dig into your community and find out what scams are happening. We have watchdog alerts that talk about the latest frauds and scams, and then the part of my responsibility um, is the Fraud Watch Network Helpline. Again, it's a free service for anyone of any age, and you can call and report a scam, you can call and ask questions about a scam, or if, unfortunately, you have been a victim of a scam, you can call and talk to one of our 150 trained fraud specialists that we have that will work one-on-one with you and give you guidance and support on the next steps you need to take.

[00:02:16] Bob: And, and I really need to just say this for our listeners, the helpline is fantastic in so many ways. I hear from victims all the time when something terrible happens to them and that you know they called their bank, they called law enforcement, they tried talking to friends, and nobody would listen, but when they called the helpline, someone listens and gives them good advice and gives them the empathy that they need. It's such an important service.

[00:02:36] Amy Nofziger: Oh that makes me really happy to hear um, and I will certainly let all of our wonderful volunteers and staff know that because they work tirelessly, every day to make sure that victims feel safe and heard and understood. So thank you for that feedback.

[00:02:53] Bob: Sure, sure, and anyone listening who's in any kind of a situation where they want that kind of help, I'd really, really encourage you to call. But those phone calls put you in, I would think, a very privileged position to understand what crimes, what scams are, are very popular. And so I, I'm sure you often get asked what are the most uh common scams. Well today, we want to talk about something that maybe even is more important which is the newest, fastest-growing scams, right?

[00:03:17] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the criminals are always thinking of new ways to steal from you.

[00:03:21] Bob: So in the uh, most recent edition of the AARP Bulletin, I know you identified six of these common fast-growing scams, so let's go through them one at a time. Tell me about check cooking.

[00:03:34] Amy Nofziger: So we know that check washing, that's where a thief will steal a paper check from a mailbox or even one of the big blue boxes and wash the ink off that you wrote with some chemicals, of course, leaving your signature. And then they'll fill it out with a new amount and to a new person. And that's still happening, let's be clear, but what the latest check cooking, um, and I love these names that they're talking about, is when thieves will actually take a digital picture of a stolen check, and then obviously using the technology that's out there and the software that's out there, they'll alter it. And they can make it look really real, um, even with the watermarks, I mean it's very convincing, what these criminals can do with these checks.

[00:04:15] Bob: So instead of check washing, we now have check cooking.

[00:04:19] Amy Nofziger: Yeah. The names that we come up with, but let's just say check fraud, right? Don't worry about the names, just worry about keeping yourself safe from a scam.

[00:04:27] Bob: Okay, so how do you keep yourself safe from this new form of check fraud?

[00:04:31] Amy Nofziger: I know it's not necessarily something that people think about a lot, but you know I challenge everyone to really consider paying your bills online. I know people think that online sometimes is not as safe, as through the mail, but it really is safer. So if you're not someone who's, you know, paying your bills online, you know talk to a friend and family, even libraries, you know, have the classes that you can take. And you know consider learning how to send money to a loved one via online instead of writing a check out to them. And then just pay attention to your bank statements. It's really important. I mean I talk to victims sometimes who are like yeah, I just looked at my, my bank statement from four months ago. And I look at mine, honestly, daily, 'cause I do online banking. If you're not someone who's as kind of, observant like that as me, you know make sure it's at least weekly, biweekly, but just make sure to check your statements.

[00:05:22] Bob: You know, I'm with you. I know there was a time when we felt like oh, going online, maybe that's not so safe; I like the old-fashioned way of doing things. But at this point we've definitely crossed into a place where the, the online banking is safer and it takes, you know, in 15 seconds, you can just do a quick scan of your checking account online and make sure that everything looks cool, and that's really important, right?

[00:05:42] Amy Nofziger: It is important. Um, you know, not only with your, you know, bank account statements, but this also goes for your credit card statements as well. You know, check them as often as you can, and then if you see anything suspicious or out of line or a charge that you don't recognize, contact your institution quickly.

[00:05:57] Bob: Okay, number two in our list of new fast-growing scams, it's called voice printing. What is that?

[00:06:03] Amy Nofziger: So this really gets into the fears around AI and deep fakes. Um, you know, everyone's talking about artificial intelligence right now and stuff. So although we're not seeing a lot of it yet, again, this is growing, um, there is some concern that this is going to be a problem in the near future. This is where someone can generate an imitation or what they call a deep fake version of, of you, and using your voice they could be calling a financial institution, they could be calling a friend or a family pretending it to be you. They could be calling your bank and, and trying to get information about your bank account. With this, I want people to kind of keep a level head about it, because again, we're hearing about artificial intelligence and AI all over the news, everywhere we go we're hearing about it. We're not really seeing these problems yet, and so I say yet, so don't panic about it yet, but just keep it in the back of your mind that these could be happening. And how to protect yourself is just be very careful about where you're putting your voice, right. Now Bob and I right now are talking on a podcast and our voice is out there, right. But we know that and we take that risk, so just be very careful whether it's on social media, you know, lock down your social media pages, but just be very careful about this scam and how it could be an upcoming one.

[00:07:21] Bob: You know when I read in the Bulletin that one way to think about this is maybe that old voice conversations are kind of coming to an end unless it's someone you really know well calling you, you just probably shouldn't talk to them at all. What do you think of that?

[00:07:34] Amy Nofziger: This is one of those things I think people have to determine their own risks factor. I still, you know, talk to my best friend every day, and my sister every day. I love those phone conversations. Now, of course, those are my friends and my family. Sometimes though you know when you are in a, in a situation, you really do want to talk to someone whether you're in a customer service situation or calling us on the helpline, you really do want that connection with somebody. But I think what you're trying to get at, Bob, is just be skeptical of anyone who's calling you over the phone talking to you, maybe in a friendship way that you know you're not friends with them. Just be very careful and just say, you know, I'm going to go ahead and end this conversation.

[00:08:10] Bob: Okay, so the next thing in the list is celebrity impostor scams. Those are becoming more common?

[00:08:16] Amy Nofziger: So yeah, celebrity impostor scams are not only just growing, they're happening right now. And I think this is where some of that AI stuff could make these grow even faster because we know celebrities are all over, you know, social media and online. And let's be honest, we all have a celebrity crush. I mean think of yours right now, right? I know who mine is, and so if we're on their Instagram or their Facebook pages and you know maybe they just had a concert or a show near us, and we write a comment like, "Hey, that was great last night. Thank you so much for coming to my town." What happens is the criminals will see that you wrote on that person's page, then they'll reach out to you via Messenger or DM, on Instagram or through TikTok, and they'll say, "Hey, you know, so and so really appreciates your message. They love that you're a fan. They want to meet with you," and you feel really special. And that emotional ether that we always talk about takes over and you think, oh my gosh! They really want to meet with me. And then, all of a sudden, you're having this conversation, obviously not with the celebrity, with an impostor, and this is, they might send you a video, and this is where that AI comes in. They might of clipped together some videos that make it seem personable, and then the ask comes, whether from the celebrity impostor themselves, or the fake manager, the fake accountant. We've heard everything. They're like, "Oh, you know, Celine Dion, she, she just loves your comment so much. She's starting this charity, and she really could use your help supporting it. Would you be able to Venmo her $5,000 to start up her charity?" And that's how they start.

[00:09:47] Bob: You didn't just tip us off to your celebrity crush, did you?

[00:09:51] Amy Nofziger: Oh, no, no, no. Not Celine Dion. Mine is absolutely Pitbull.

[00:09:56] Bob: (laughs) Well I can tell you a certain uh young teenager who's in my life who I won't identify, not very long ago was talking to her parents and saying, "I think Taylor Swift just messaged me." And they, they had to talk her off of, off of that. These things can be very persuasive and as, as you mentioned, the groups coalesce online. It's easy to find someone who's a fan of Ringo Starr or Taylor Swift or Celine Dion, right?

[00:10:18] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, and we, and we say celebrity, but let's be clear with celebrity is that it's any known person. We have heard politicians, we have heard authors, we have heard you know civil rights advocates I believe are everybody being used in these kind of known celebrity impostor scams, it's not just actresses and singers that this is happening with.

[00:10:40] Bob: And, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a world-famous actor or singer, it could be someone who's a celebrity in your orbit a, a music--, musician for example.

[00:10:49] Amy Nofziger: Absolutely. And that's why when I go out and I talk, I always want people to imagine who their celebrity crush would be to put it in the real person, because it's all somebody different to all of us.

[00:10:59] Bob: Okay, number 4 on the list is something that's called a multi-stage grandparent scam. So this is a, a new flavor of an old-fashioned crime, right?

[00:11:07] Amy Nofziger: Well grandparent scams have been around for you know a really, really long time. I mean I've been doing this for 22 years and I remember my first grandparent scam call that we got. So they're just morphing them and growing them and making them bigger and bigger. And so you might get a, a phone call from someone pretending to be your grandchild or not even your grandchild; they're pretending to be the lawyer of your grandchild, 'cause your grandchild's in prison and they can't really, you know, you can't really talk to your grandchild so to speak. So what they'll do is they'll try to again do these little psychological tricks to make the fraud seem more credible. The scammers will have these co-conspirators kind of pose um, as the lawyer or the jail person or the bailiff or whoever it is to get more money. So they'll say, "Okay, I going to give you a case number, and then I need you to call this phone number back. When the bailiff picks up the phone, give him your case number, um, and that's how you'll get to, you know, pay this." And so it's just they're adding more features into kind of the typical grandparent scam one, just to build up the credibility and then also, I think it really does just continue to keep the victim under that emotional ether. If you're sitting there writing down case numbers, writing down names, writing down phone numbers, you're not having that moment to think cognitively. This doesn't make sense right now. I should probably call my grandson at the number I have for them because you're too busy taking all the information and trying to document it to try to get this person safe.

[00:12:35] Bob: Okay, so I think that's really important, the stay safe advice for this is to just stop talking and contact the person who's allegedly in trouble and see how they are.

[00:12:43] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, first and foremost, you know, don't talk to anyone you don't know that's calling you unsolicited saying that a family member's in trouble. I would always just say, you know, don't even talk to them. If that family member is in trouble you will certainly figure it out next step, then, of course, as you said is to call the person or text the person that you have, like you have their phone number. So it's in your contacts list, not the phone number that the person on the phone originally gave you, because that's just going to be, again, their co-conspirator. So text or call the family member or one of your family members that will know where this person is, and I guarantee you, they're probably where they should be which most of the time, because they're using grandchildren, they're mostly in class or at work.

[00:13:25] Bob: And it's not a terrible idea to talk about this ahead of time, right? To talk amongst your families and say, "If something were to be going wrong, how, how would I reach out to you? What's the best way to talk to you directly at a number I know belongs to you?

[00:13:36] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, I think roleplaying these and, and having these conversations is great. So next time you're together with your family, it's like, "Hey Grandma, you know I heard about this scam, it's called the grandparent scam, you know, if anyone ever calls you and they're pretending to be me, telling you that I was in trouble, please, just hangup the phone and call me at the phone number. And let me put my phone number in your contacts if you don't already have it, or call mom. I don't care how much the person tells you, it's like, don't call mom because I'm going to get in trouble. You have my permission." And the interesting thing about this parent/grandchild scam, is that when we hear from the grandchildren that names were used in the scam, the guilt that the grandchild feels that they are an innocent victim in this as well and they feel so guilty that their grandparent, you know, paid this money on their behalf and they had nothing to do with it. And they feel so helpless.

[00:14:27] Bob: That sounds just, yet another emotional fallout from what is a horrible crime that takes advantage of people's generosity and caring for their grandkids. Uh, okay, so number five, it's called delayed action sweepstakes. What's that?

[00:14:41] Amy Nofziger: So a sweepstakes scams, I mean they're, they're as old as time. Where you get a phone call saying that you won a sweepstakes or a prize and you know most of the time they'll say you have to pay taxes, uh you know, shipping and handling to collect this prize. But now the scammers are asking for personal information so they can validate it. It's very similar to the other scams we've talked about where they're just trying to add credibility to it. Because we, as educators, are out there saying, you know, red flag is if anyone asks for money upfront for a sweepstakes, it's a scam. So they're not necessarily asking for any money upfront now, they're asking you for personal information so they can validate you and set up a payout. And this is not far off from what would happen if you actually did win a prize, because depending on if you actually did win a prize, a legitimate prize that you've entered, certainly they are going to ask you for some personal information because you probably are going to have file, you know, some taxes on it and let the IRS know. So it's just a way to add more credibility. Just remember, to win a prize you have to enter for a prize, and they will give you enough time to, to check on everything, right? Any legitimate prize or sweepstakes that you have entered and then have won will want you to do your due diligence and verify the prize.

[00:16:07] Bob: And also, big sweepstakes prizes are, are so rare, you know we're talking getting hit by lightning kind of odds, right. So if somebody off says to you that you've won a big prize, it, it's almost certainly is a scam.

[00:16:19] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, especially if you did not enter it.

[00:16:23] Bob: Okay, we know that criminals, uh also love to take advantage of what's in the news, what's top of mind for people and so it's a good time to bring up that the Paris Olympics are coming up, and, and you all expect there to be crimes around the Paris Olympics, don't you?

[00:16:38] Amy Nofziger: Yes, so any time there is kind of a big event, whether it's a sporting event or even spring break, or whatever it is, the criminals follow the headlines just like you and I. And with the Paris Olympics coming up, um, which let me be honest, I'm super excited about, my two favorite sports are in the Paris Olympics this summer, we predict, because a lot of people are going to be traveling over to Paris to watch the games, that the criminals are going to be sending whether fake text messages, fake emails, fake, social media posts to friends and family of yours that say, "Oh my gosh, I'm in Paris for the Olympics, my wallet got stolen, I have no money, can you please help me out by sending gift cards?" And it's pretty convincing because there are going to be a lot of people over there, a lot of us after COVID have gone overseas, so it might make sense that like it my like oh, well Amy was just in Paris, and Amy does love the Olympics, so this possibly could be Amy and I certainly don't want her to get stuck there. So just resist the urge to react immediately. That's the key on this one because your emotions are going to be heightened, you’re going to want to help your friend or your family. Just stay calm, and then, again, just like with the grandparent scam, call that friend or family member on the phone number that you have for them. Do not respond to the email or even a text because this scammer might have hacked that email and might be the person responding. So again, just stop communication via the method that they started you with and contact your friend. And again, I, I say this to people and I know people want to help and, and all that, but really, if I was stuck over in Paris, like would you be the one I would be reaching out to? Probably not. It would probably be my mom, right? Um, no offense, Bob, like I'm sure you would...

[00:18:40] Bob: (laughs) I would love to help you if you needed it though.

[00:18:42] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, of course you would. But right, think about that in that situation, it's like, would I really need to be reaching out this way for gift cards to get me home from Paris? I'm sure there is somebody else or something else that Amy could do to rectify the situation.

[00:18:59] Bob: And we've seen these crimes on Facebook Messenger for example where, I don't know, to me there's something even more realistic about you know, you know Amy your face would pop up and it would be messaging me directly, and it feels like you. You know we've seen people using hacked accounts for things like that, so it can be really persuasive. But the answer is, just, just don't do it. Just stop and contact the person in the way you've always contacted them in the past, right?

[00:19:23] Amy Nofziger: Absolutely. And I think in this situation again, although we talked about how phone conversations might be going to the wayside, I think this is one of those where you do need to have the phone conversation and call that person on the number you have for them, and make sure that everything's okay and verify the situation.

[00:19:38] Bob: I am very glad to hear that phone conversations are not going away. I would hate that.

[00:19:42] Amy Nofziger: I don't think they are.

[00:19:43] Bob: What are your two favorite sports?

[00:19:44] Amy Nofziger: Oh well, and it's partly because of my kids, but basketball and fencing.

[00:19:49] Bob: Yeah, the summer Olympics are just great. Amy, whenever I talk to you, I am always just struck by how much energy and spirit you have for this topic, and day after day hearing all of these very, very sad and disturbing stories, how do you keep your energy so positive?

[00:20:03] Amy Nofziger: I think it's 'cause I know that our team at AARP and the Fraud Watch Network is making a difference. And not just a difference overall, we're making a difference in individual people's lives. And I think I speak for all of our fraud specialists and volunteers out there is that even though some days get really, really hard and, and we've been so busy lately and, and some days I have to, you know, help, we all have to help each other, you know, stay positive and stuff is that we're fortunate that we get to be there for someone in their time of need.

[00:20:34] Bob: Well once again, please pass on my thanks to all the volunteers that you have and, and my thanks to you directly for all the good work that you do.

[00:20:40] Amy Nofziger: Well thank you, Bob, for everything you do. Really appreciate it.


[00:20:45] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is:, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us. That address again is: Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Becky Dodson; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



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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